Joseph Kavaloski discusses Emre Can and his rise to prominence in recent weeks.
Through the first four months of the season, Jurgen Klopp’s lineup decisions have been fairly predictable. The same starting eleven in the Premier League with a couple different changes for injury all while staying with the 4-3-3 formation.
One minor surprise, however, was the immediate inclusion of Emre Can in the starting eleven when he returned from injury. Georginio Wijnaldum had been previously operating as Adam Lallana’s central midfield counterpart, but once Can was fit, Klopp almost immediately restored him to the starting lineup in the Dutchman’s stead.
Wijnaldum had been playing well in his role (the match at Stamford Bridge was the best of his performances) making Klopp’s faith in his fellow countryman a little surprising. Now looking back, this has turned out to be a very smart decision by the manager with Can easily outplaying his Dutch counterpart.
Previously, Can had been primarily deployed as the team’s holding midfielder. Last season, this worked wonders for the Reds as Can put in some excellent performances en route to the Europa League final. Many expected him to play a similar role this year, but Jordan Henderson’s emergence as a holding midfielder in the 4-3-3 blocked Can’s way to a starting berth in that spot.
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As a result of these developments, it appeared as though Can would be Klopp’s first man off the bench once he was fully match fit. Thankfully, this turned out not to be the case and Can has been rock solid since being restored to the starting lineup.
Wijnaldum has played quite decently in his first season at Anfield, but he has been far closer to average than excellent. Can has not been incredible by any means, but the German adds a certain flair and steel to the midfield that Wijnaldum was not providing.
Perhaps the biggest difference from Can to Wijnaldum is in the attacking third. After operating as an attacking midfielder for most of last season at Newcastle, many expected the Dutch international to be very forward thinking from the center of the park. Unfortunately, he has been unable to regain that dynamic attacking form of 2015/16.
Can, on the other hand, has begun showing a certain aggressiveness that Wijnaldum could not. The German is always looking to get forward and this is illustrated by his three goals and one assist in only seven starts. In contrast, Wijnaldum has only scored one and assisted two in three more starts.
Can has become well known at Anfield for his trademark lung busting runs from the midfield into the eighteen-yard box. The German is always looking to make an incisive pass forward or a driving run to contribute to the attack.
Wijnaldum was expected to have a similar impact, but he has been relatively passive in a red shirt. Both him and Can have created a scoring chance about every 55 minutes which is certainly a positive, but Wijnaldum’s lack of end product had to have played a role in Can regaining his starting place so quickly.
Another area that Can significantly improves is in his defensive work. For all of Can’s energy going forward, be provides similar enthusiasm when defending. The German averages 2 tackles, 0.9 interceptions, and 1.2 clearances per match, far superior to Wijnaldum’s marks of 1.2 tackles, 0.6 interceptions, and 0.8 clearances.
Can has never been one to shirk his defensive responsibilities and while Wijnaldum is not a poor defender in his own right, the German simply adds far more steel in the center of the park.
Both players have their flaws, but Klopp has two very good midfielders to choose from every week. Luckily, he has decided to place his faith in his countryman over Wijnaldum which has seen a new dynamic added to Liverpool’s central midfield.
Going forward, it appears as though Can has locked up a starting berth and once he returns from his latest injury, it will likely relegate Wijnaldum to being the first man off the bench. This may not be the optimal scenario for the Dutchman, but his versatility in central and attacking midfield makes him a natural utility player.
One thing Klopp is excellent in is man management. Wijnaldum may not see regular minutes in central midfield for the foreseeable future, but his positional flexibility and well-rounded skillset make it difficult for him to not earn playing time. Can may have solidified his place in central midfield, but this certainly is not the last we will see of Georginio Wijnaldum in the starting eleven.