Martin King assesses Emre Can’s position in the Liverpool squad, with German finding game time hard to come by.
Over the course of his first year as Liverpool boss, Jürgen Klopp has managed to build a strong team comprising of current and new stars.
The Reds have made a bright start to the season, winning seven of their opening nine fixtures in all competitions and thanks to consistent performances, Klopp has had to make little changes to his squad for each game.
That has meant that a number of notable names have had to be content with a place on the substitutes’ bench and among them has been midfielder Emre Can. The German had a busy summer, featuring for his country in Euro 2016, and was tasked with regaining his fitness upon returning to his club side after an extended break.
Can did so but an ankle injury derailed his progress and now with the season very much underway, the 22-year-old finds himself having to work his way back into his manager’s starting line-up.
Standing in Can’s way has been a settled midfield trio of captain Jordan Henderson, Georginio Wijnaldum and Adam Lallana.
The trio may have initially struggled, given their new deep-lying roles, but Klopp’s patience with them has paid off. Both Henderson and Wijnaldum now have increased defensive influence while Lallana has managed to contribute to both that and his side’s attacking moves with three goals and three assists.
As a result, Henderson, Wijnaldum and Lallana have become the manager’s first choice midfield unit, restricting Can to just one start and four substitute appearances for the Reds this season.
Strengths and weaknesses
Either way, when the German does find himself in the starting line-up, it is easy to see why he belongs there.
On his day, Can offers Liverpool an imposing figure in midfield with his pace, strength and good tackling ability key attributes in denying opponents an attacking influence, whilst protecting his back-four. His versatility has proved useful in the past as he has occupied a right-back role for former boss Brendan Rodgers as well as current Germany coach Joachim Löw.
The 22-year-old also possesses good dribbling skills and his passing ability combined with his vision makes him a good attacking threat.
As far as Can’s weaknesses go, he is often guilty of making rash decisions as often seen by his tendency to commit unnecessary fouls or delay a passing or shooting opportunity.
It can be argued, however, that these are the traits of a youngster and that he will only improve with age. Either way, Klopp will be aware that improvement can be achieved with first team football.
Perhaps no one is as keen to see Can return to Liverpool’s starting line-up as the man is himself. Speaking to the club’s official website, the midfielder expressed his desire to reclaim a place in Klopp’s team, insisting that he will use this international break to catch the manager’s eye.
“I am a very, very bad watcher!” he admits.
“Of course I’m always happy when my team wins, but it’s always different when you play.”
“I have to work hard. I have to get fitness back. If I get game time – which is always different to training – I have to work hard on my game and get confidence again.
He adds, “That’s very important for me. I haven’t played so many minutes this season but of course, my target is to play a lot of minutes again.
“It is always better to play and be on the pitch. For me, it has been a little bit unlucky so far this season because I came back a little bit late and had a very short break after the Euros.
“Then I came back and got an injury. The team did very well and then I came back and it was not easy to get back into the team.
“Now I have to continue the work, I have to work hard. And I am confident enough that if I am ready and fit, I will play one day.”
“One day” may sound a bit far-off, however, it may also be just a week away when Liverpool clash with Manchester United. The Reds host their rivals at Anfield on October 17 – a Monday night – and should fellow midfielder Lallana, who suffered a groin injury prior to the break, not make it back in time for the match, Can may find himself making a much-desired first start in the Premier League this season. Whatever the outcome, the German’s situation at Anfield is certainly as interesting for fans and experts as it is frustrating for him.
Plenty of praise will already have gone Jürgen Klopp’s way, as the former Borussia Dortmund coach has added a good amount of depth to his squad, which has produced fierce competition for places that sees the players off the pitch work as hard as those on it.
With Can making up the former group, his work to make it back to the first team continues but it surely won’t be too long before the number 23 appears on Klopp’s starting team sheet.
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