EMRE Can divides opinion more than any other Liverpool player and his form this season has led to an even bigger split in opinion, writes DOMINIC CLIFF.
In the first half against Burnley a few weeks ago some would have been happy for the Reds to cash in, with contract talks yet to be resolved, but he would go on to score the goal which handed Jürgen Klopp’s side three crucial points.
Then there was his sensational performance against Arsenal at Anfield and it’s not hard to see why some have come to be frustrated with Can. His inconsistency is his downfall.
If recent performances are anything to go by, however, it seems Klopp may have finally found Can’s best position in a central defensive midfield role.
Operating as the number six in Klopp’s trusted 4-3-3 system allowed Can to grab Sunday’s game against Manchester City by the scruff of the neck — battling away and forcing the Reds onto the front foot even as legs around him started to go.
Some even believe that was the 23-year-old’s best performance in a red shirt. Here are five other times Can has impressed and given supporters reason to be positive about a bright future at Anfield:
Real Madrid 1 Liverpool 0 — November 4, 2014
Rewind to a time just three months after Can’s Liverpool debut. An away match at Real Madrid in which Brendan Rodgers, for reasons still unknown to most, decided to make seven changes to his first choice 11. Can was thrown into the line-up in place of Steven Gerrard, who was beginning to realise that his role at the club was diminishing and has since claimed that being benched at the Bernabeu sped up his Anfield exit. The much-changed side didn’t disgrace themselves though there performance did little to prevent question marks over Rodgers’ decision to rotate heavily. The stand-out performer in midfield was Can, in what would have been one of the biggest matches of his career. The then 20-year-old played with confidence in one of the world’s most prominent grounds and gave supporters a glimpse of his much-touted potential.
Burnley 0 Liverpool 1 — December 26, 2014
A game which has probably (definitely) slipped your mind, a Boxing Day clash at Turf Moor saw Can come off the bench to replace Kolo Toure at centre-balf. If you don’t remember this game, a certain Simon Mignolet error where he delayed kicking the ball for so long that it rolled out for a Burnley corner may refresh your memory… anyway, this ranks among Can’s best performances because it showed the German’s versatility. He won loads of headers, looked like a natural ball playing centre-half and helped the Reds towards a win and a clean sheet.
Southampton 1 Liverpool 6 — December 2, 2015
A comfortable win in the Capital One Cup over Southampton saw a colossal performance from Can. His exquisite outside of the boot chipped through ball to set up Daniel Sturridge showed the touch of class he has in his locker and he displayed passing ability that Liverpool fans hadn’t seen since the days of Xabi Alonso. Again he showed his strength, battling across the pitch as well as making powerful runs from the midfield. Flying into challenges, and showing no fear in a fantastic Liverpool display.
Manchester United 1 Liverpool 1 — March 17, 2016
Can dominated the midfield in the second leg against Manchester United in last season’s Europa League round of 16. The German outmuscled Marouane Fellaini for the majority of the match, threw himself in front of every shot possible and got an assist with a pass out wide to Philippe Coutinho which led to the goal that ultimately ended the tie. This match showed he can do it on the big stage, a European match in front of 70,000-plus at Old Trafford could cause even the highest calibre of midfielder to shy away, but he stood out and made his presence known across the pitch.
Liverpool 3 Villarreal 0 — May 5, 2016
Another boss display in a European match, this game though is one of the more frustrating Can performances. If he played like this every week, he would be the perfect player for Liverpool in the centre of the park. Coming back early from what was said to be a season-ending ankle injury he suffered against Borussia Dortmund in the quarter-final, Can imposed himself in the midfield from start to finish. You only have to look back at the positive reaction to his miraculous recovery to see how highly he was regarded by some. He picked up every loose ball and his quick movement and through ball to Nathaniel Clyne helped set up the first goal.
Sunday’s display against Man City is the type of display that supporters have been longing to see regularly from the German. It’s easy to forget that Can is one of the younger midfielders in the Liverpool squad and that he was even awarded Liverpool’s young player of the season for his performances throughout 2015-16.
Tying him down to a new deal will be good business for the club, especially if the performances mentioned above are seen on a more regular basis.