HANDSOME Emre was a much discussed player among Liverpool fans this summer. Some wanted him straight in the first team on the opening day, believing his power and athleticism were much needed in a side that had finished last season lacking energy and fight. Others doubted he would ever make it as a central midfielder at a top club, pointing to times where he seemed lost of position and allowed opponents to run off him too easily.
Not that either side could speak with too much confidence, as we had seen so little of the German in his favoured position. Emre has spent the majority of his playing time at Liverpool playing in defence, looking classy and assured on the right of a centre half three and whatever the opposite is of classy and assured at right back.
However, there have been some clues in his midfield performances in red. Naysayers remembered Besiktas in the Europa League when Can seemed a few seconds behind the neat passing around him. Yea-sayers speak of Bolton in the FA Cup when he stuck himself in midfield and ran the game, providing a sumptuous assist for Raheem Sterling’s equaliser.
What is certain is that Emre backs himself to play there. When we interviewed Can last season he was adamant he saw himself as a midfield player. Not specific on a particular role, but very specific that it was in the middle of the park. It seems that Brendan Rodgers agrees with him, working with him throughout last season on what he needed to improve to play in his preferred position. Speaking in the press conference before the Bournemouth game he reiterated that he thinks Can’s best position is in midfield, praising his strength and power, but crucially his passing range.
Ultimately, it’s Emre’s ability on the ball that will decide whether he can hold down a place in the middle of the park for Liverpool. Rodgers has probably spoke more than ever before in his time as Liverpool manager about the need for defensive solidity — about defenders who first and foremost enjoy defending. Although this seems a slight departure from the past, he isn’t about to start picking an out-and-out destroyer in front of them. He hasn’t got one for a start, and has shown little interest in buying one either.
If Emre is to excel in a Liverpool midfield he will need to be as comfortable on the ball as the manager believes he is, and as his defensive cameos suggested. He will also be expected to learn how to dictate play from a holding position. His size will be seen as a bonus.
We didn’t get many clues in pre-season as to how much Can will be used this year as he wasn’t really there, the German instead awarded an extended holiday after playing in the Under-21 European Championships. There were, however, some interesting signs of how the midfield might set up this season, with James Milner and Jordan Henderson often pushed forward with one, usually Lucas or Joe Allen, behind them.
This seemed to get the most out of Milner and Henderson, with a defensive shield allowing both to break forward and join in attacks, and it was a switch towards that approach with Can joining the action on 63 minutes that helped Liverpool take control — and win — the game against Stoke, Coutinho of course providing the moment of magic in the 86th minute.
It’s impossible to say if Can would have been given the chance at all had Allen been fit. But the manager has previous in sticking with something that works, and the midfield balance once Can was introduced clearly did. That would mean pushing Coutinho further forward, but Rodgers may see that as no bad thing after watching the Brazilian fire in a thunderbolt from an advanced position on Sunday, and with Adam Lallana and Jordon Ibe having a minimal influence on the game.
We can’t get carried away with a cameo, of course — no matter how impressive. We still can’t be sure which Emre Can we have just yet. The one who Pavel Nedved — now a member of the Juventus board — said he would love to sign over any other player on the pitch after watching him impress in a draw with the Czech Republic this summer, or the one who ate a ton of pizza and then chased shadows in Germany’s 5-0 defeat against Portugal a couple of games later.
However, his talent is unquestionable, and talent is worth nurturing. We are a football club that needs to take chances, and Can is certainly one of those. He may cost us a few more goals in that position than a ‘proper’ defensive midfielder would. He might have a few afternoons when he needs a hand or two, or he finds it too much.
But he might also develop into one of the best midfielders in the country. With the ability to stop attacks one minute and join them the next. With a running style that can take people out of the game. Liverpool need to take risks to find the advantage. I hope Emre Can is starting for Liverpool sooner rather than later.
Pics: David Rawcliffe-Propaganda Photo