SINCE his arrival for £10million from Bayer Leverkusen back in the Summer of 2014, Emre Can has been a much-discussed player among fans, writes Peter Tscherewik. Having played in several different roles during his time with the Reds, the debate rages on as to where he fits in best in our squad.
Despite his injury problems at the beginning of this season, the German has bedded back in with ease when called upon – delivering performances of a high quality, which begs the question; Why is he not in our starting 11 week in, week out?
Squad depth is at an exceptional level at the moment, probably the best that it has been in years. Midfield options are a prime example of that, with the 4-3-3 system making it ever-harder for players to cement their place in the side.
Players including Adam Lallana and Philippe Coutinho have both found themselves playing in deeper roles at times, which in turn further pushes on the notion that no players’ position in the starting 11 is guaranteed and everything is up for grabs.
With Jürgen Klopp additionally securing the services of Marko Grujić in January, and Georginio Wijnaldum in the summer transfer window – rotation has been used when required, with the latter being Can’s main competitor for starts.
Having endured a month out of action after picking up an ankle injury in the Reds’ League Cup tie at Burton, the German has come back fighting. He had to wait until the recent visit of Manchester United for his first Premier League start of the campaign, and following that he spoke of his desire in wanting to contribute more to the side;
“I played last year as the No. 6, now I play as the No. 8 and can go a bit further forward. My target is to score more goals and give more assists.”
When played as the No. 6, some of Can’s frustrations were there for all to see. Even delving back into the Brendan Rodgers era, where he was often deployed in a back-three, his urgency and positivity in wanting to maraud out from the defence was clear – one of his real underlying qualities and a big part of how he likes to play.
That could be key because the manager has not only got the front-three flowing, but also the midfield. Can has frequently played on the left-side of a three this season, with himself and Jordan Henderson interchanging in the holding role, allowing Lallana to roam further forward.
Looking back at the 2013-14 season, far more emphasis was put on our front-three to create and score – now, attacking comes from all areas of the pitch. Against Crystal Palace, for Can to bomb forward, and get onto the end of Alberto Moreno’s cross to put the Reds one-up speaks volumes of how the manager has got everyone ticking over playing at their best and bought in the idea of an attacking unit.
There will always be the argument from some that a player like Can should be used as a holding midfielder, and that’s that. The season so far has proven that perhaps there is room to reconsider that idea, particularly with himself and Jordan Henderson impressing in their respective midfield roles on several occasions.
When Liverpool play deeper, not only does our midfield tend to look weaker, but also far more restricted. Both Henderson, and particularly Can have thrived because they have been given far more flexibility to roam and advance further up the field.
In recent years, there has been a strong outcry for the club to bring in a new holding midfielder. Upon Klopp’s arrival last season, seemingly everyone wanted one – and Liverpool didn’t bring one in, and still haven’t. Lucas Leiva was on the end of the run-around in this summer’s transfer window and with his contract up in 2017 it looks ever-more likely that the Brazilian will be shown the exit door.
The manager has already shown that he won’t buy players for the sake of it, and if he did want a holding midfielder – he probably would have delved into the market for one already. The system Liverpool is playing so successfully has highlighted that perhaps the Reds don’t need one.
Liverpool play without fear, and Can has potential to be a big part of that. The 4-3-3 is extremely flexible and fluid, and at times looks closer to a 2-5-3 because of the full backs’ attacking intent.
The German looks a far better player when used in a box-to-box role, rather than being the ‘water carrier’ of the side. Liverpool may well be taking more of a risk in allowing him to play in more advanced areas, but his contribution to the team has already proven to be far better when utilised further forward. The Reds may well concede a few more goals by playing in this way, but as shown in recent weeks Klopp is confident of outscoring anyone and the 22-year-old, who has clocked up 98 appearances and scored four goals for the Reds has a big part to play this season in terms of goals and assists.
In the past, things haven’t always been ideal for the Reds. During the Brendan Rodgers era, players including Can and Lazar Marković often found themselves shoehorned into several different positions.
The system that has been put in place now under Klopp, looks increasingly like the perfect accompaniment to the group of players Liverpool have. Joël Matip was brought in this summer, and along with Dejan Lovren – who incidentally looks a different player to the one we had some 18 months ago, look like an accomplished and comfortable defensive pairing to say the least.
The aim right now seems simple; to out-score everyone – do we therefore need to play the likes of Can deeper?
In every instance against both Palace and West Brom, the German never looked out of place. When he went forward, Henderson was always covering his position and vice-versa. To have a group of players, who are on each other’s wavelengths like that, must be like a dream for the manager.
Can’s talent is there for all to see, and he may well develop into one of Liverpool’s best players in the coming years ahead – I for one hope that he isn’t hung out to dry as a defensive midfielder, and instead continues to flourish in a free-roaming box-to-box role.
The German, along with the rest of the side are starting to prove to the rest of the Premier League and beyond, that we really mean business.