A draw, and certainly defeat, against Burnley here at Anfield and Arsenal and Manchester United would have been breathing down Jurgen Klopp’s neck in the chase for the fourth and final place in next season’s Champions League, a target which apparently now consumes Premier League managers at the expense of everything else.
But Can gathered a short, square pass from Divock Origi on the hour and unleashed a shot from over 25 yards which England goalkeeper Tom Heaton might have done more to keep out before it flew into the bottom right-hand corner.
And with it, Liverpool could breathe slightly more easily. Should Arsenal win their two games in hand they would move above Liverpool, while United, also with two games on the Merseysiders, would move level, but at least the Reds displayed a determination that has been missing throughout much of this season of underachievement.
“I would say you need to be ready for both,” said Klopp when asked if it was important for his team to learn how to win ‘ugly’ games.
“You cannot plan an ugly game. But this was not our best game so, yes, if we want to stay where we are, then we need to win football games and we can’t make the choice and say ‘yes or no we want to play this way’.
“If it is really good today that we could do it like this. We usually win good games, but the bad games and the average games we need to be challenging too. We were today.”
Burnley had already threatened, especially from the right wing down which they attacked veteran James Milner, even before their seventh-minute opening goal from Ashley Barnes.
Right-back Matt Lowton crossed from the right and a fraction beyond Andre Gray but Barnes slid ahead of his marker to meet the ball and steer it home.
It was just Burnley’s fifth goal from open play in 14 away league games this season, a statistic which explains why all but two of their impressive tally of 31 points to date have come at home at Turf Moor, where they had beaten Liverpool earlier this term.
But here there was no immediate sign of a response from Liverpool with Burnley carving out the better of what few half-chances there were.
Not until the 45th minute, when Burnley midfielder Joey Barton guided an over-enthusiastic header back to Heaton was the keeper required to dirty his gloves in anger as he dived to save. It was a surprise, and an injustice, therefore that Liverpool somehow managed to go into the interval on level terms, through Georginio Wijnaldum.
Origi, starting in place of the injured Roberto Firmino, crossed from the left and Wijnaldum made a lazy attempt to control the ball, flicking out a boot and benefiting from a fortunate rebound from defender Ben Mee, before drilling home an unstoppable finish from six yards.
During that first period Can was one of numerous Liverpool players to under-achieve but his afternoon reflected that of the team in that his persistence actually brought reward. After being partly responsible for not closing down Lowton for the Burnley goal, his display was rightly praised by Klopp.
“Emre has an outstanding attitude, he always wants,” said Klopp. “He has had a few problems with a calf which we couldn’t sort quickly enough.
“We had a lot of specialists to try and find it out and it looks like we found a solution and he doesn’t have these problems anymore.
“I like to speak positively about a player, Second half Emre was very good but first half it was a challenge he should have had before their goal but things like that happen in football, it does not make you a bad person. We have to react and he reacted really well.”
Can was indeed much better after the restart, Liverpool marginally better. There were blocked chances in both penalty areas before Can’s winner and, following it, more gaps appeared in the Burnley defence than Liverpool’s as the visitors pressed for an equaliser.
Ragnar Klavan put in a monumental block on another Barnes shot, Sadio Mane should have scored Liverpool’s third in the last minute but was denied by Heaton’s fingertips, and, deep in injury-time, a set-piece fell to Lowton at the far post but he blasted way over.
“It’s another ‘nearly’ for us and we have had too many ‘nearlys’ on the road,” said Burnley manager Sean Dyche.
“The main thing is to keep performing and if we keep performing like that things will come our way over time.”
Mignolet 7; Clyne 7, Klavan 5, Matip 6, Milner 5; Wijnaldum 8, Can 7, Lallana 7; Mane 6, Coutinho 6 (Woodburn 60, 6), Origi 7 (Lucas 79, 6).
Karius, Gomez, Moreno, Wilson, Alexander-Arnold.
Heaton 6; Lowton 7, Keane 9, Mee 7, Ward 7; Boyd 6 (Brady 72, 6), Barton 6, Hendrick 6, Arfield 7 (Agyei 89); Barnes 7, Gray 6 (Vokes 79).
Robinson, Westwood, Tarkowski, Darikwa.