Just over 45 minutes of mostly forgettable football were instantly forgotten when Can ran into the Watford penalty area in first-half stoppage time and met Lucas Leiva’s lofted pass forward with a perfectly-timed overhead kick, sending the ball in an arc over Nordin Amrabat and into the top corner of Heurelho Gomes’ net.
It was a worthy contender for goal of the season, and its value to Jurgen Klopp and his team was immense, pushing them three points clear of Manchester City and the rest of the pack aiming to complete the top four places along with Chelsea and Tottenham.
The Reds are also four points clear of Manchester United and nine clear of Arsenal, who have two games in hand, so third place is looking good for Klopp’s men with only three games to go.
But you have to say Liverpool will need to show much more than they did at Vicarage Road if they are to make any impression on Europe’s finest next season.
Against a mediocre Watford side who look to already have bags packed for their summer holidays, having reached the 40-point safety barrier, Liverpool struggled to find any fluency or show much flair.
In mitigation they are clearly missing their injured talisman Saido Mane and then lost playmaker Philippe Coutinho after 13 minutes when the Brazilian hobbled off with a dead leg, having struggled in vain to play on for five minutes.
It meant an early appearance as substitute for Adam Lallana, back from his own injury hiatus, and the England midfielder enlivened an otherwise dismal first period by thumping a volley against the crossbar from 25 yards shortly before half-time.
It was a rare moment of quality in a game notable for misplaced passes, sloppy play and the a little too much playacting. Can escaped without caution when he went down theatrically in the penalty area, flipping his legs in the air like an Olympic swimmer entering the water. Referee Craig Pawson was unimpressed but kept his cards in his pocket.
Lucas was not so fortunate a minute later, however, his dramatic tumble after brushing against the backside of Tom Cleverly earning him a yellow card, not the penalty he was seeking.
But the Brazilian went from villain to hero, in Liverpool’s eyes, when he turned provider for Can’s goal soon afterwards. There seemed little immediate threat when Lucas punted a pass into Watford’s penalty area, but Can darted forward from a wide position and struck a beautiful bicycle kick while barely breaking stride.
It was a moment to savour, certainly a goal worthy of winning any game.
But normal service resumed after half-time, and although Divock Origi warmed Gomes’ hands with a couple of long-range shots, Liverpool did not look like scoring again. Fortunately for them, Watford were pitiful going forward, mostly giving Simon Mignolet catching practice with their abject crossing. M’Bame Niang fired in a tame shot early on, Etienne Capoue put one over the bar and Daryl Janmaat almost caught the Belgian keeper out with a curler from 25 yards in the closing stages.
Klopp looked agitated on the touchline, berating his players for their sloppiness, and he sent on Ragnar Klaven to shore up his defence. He also found time to give Daniel Sturridge his first taste of Premier League football since January 2, the England striker appearing for the final five minutes. But when he got a sight of goal, Sturridge’s rustiness showed as he hesitated and allowed Gomes to save.
It might have proved costly if Sebastian Prodl had not fired his volley a fraction lower in the 94th minute, but the Watford defender struck the crossbar and three points were secured for Liverpool.
At the final whistle, Klopp and his players went over to applaud the corner of Vicarage Road where Liverpool’s fans were celebrating, now clear in third place.
A delighted Can said: “I have never scored a goal like that — maybe when I was younger. That is the best goal I’ve ever scored.
“I saw the space and I ran behind and my first thought was that I wanted to head it, then I didn’t think too much.
“But the most important thing was three points after knowing what happened yesterday. It was a big game for us.
“Everything is in our hands. If we win the three games we are in the Champions League. We are confident. If we perform how we can perform then we can do it.”
Gomes 7; Prodl 6, Mariappa 6, Britos 6 (Kabasele 19), Janmaat 6; Amrabat 5 (Okaka 85), Capoue 5 (Success 73), Cleverley 6, Doucoure 7; Niang 6, Deeley 7.
Pantilimon,Behrami, Zuniga, Eleftheriou.
Mignolet 7; Clyne 6, Lovren 6, Matip 7, Milner 6; Can 8, Lucas 6, Wijnaldum 6; Firminho 7, Origi 6 (Sturridge 86), Coutinho 6 (Lallana 13 [Klavan 84] )