Jack Hallows takes a look at why Emre Can has frustrated for much of this season so far and why it’s such a surprise.
It wasn’t long ago that Emre Can was a key cog in Liverpool’s machine. The German put in some of the best performances of his career in the Reds’ Europa League campaign last season and had even been touted by some as Liverpool’s next captain. After another torrid showing at Southampton however, the German has come under immense criticism – not all of it unjust.
Last season Can was used as a holding midfielder in a double pivot primarily alongside Henderson. The 4231 system didn’t seem to suit the skipper as he failed to find a balance in playing a box to box role from deeper but Can absolutely excelled. Typically fielded as the deeper of the two midfielders, he was able to bomb forward from his own half and make the most of his impressive passing range and physicality to start attacks. This season however, he seems almost incapable so far of getting to grips with an entirely new role.
While Henderson has embraced playing as a ‘modern 6’ as Klopp calls it, Can has struggled to adapt to being used further forward. Typically fielded as what has become known as a ‘floating 8’ alongside one of Lallana or Wijnaldum this season, the German has looked almost lost. His passing has been unsure, his defensive play has been erratic and the speed of his contributions to build up play has been sluggish and off the pace. One wonders if the injuries he sustained towards the start of the season – paired of course with a summer spent at Euro 2016 – have taken their toll on the German and haven’t allowed him the chance to gather any momentum.
Where last season he was one of the first names on the team sheet, the Reds seem to play more with more fluency and balance when he’s not part of their midfield three. Lallana and Wijnaldum have a slickness to their play that Can does not possess and in a position further forward, the German struggles to use his power and strength to his advantage. Liverpool’s play is centred around fast passing moves, smart movement and clever interplay between their attacking players. For much of this season though, Can has been unable to provide enough quality in any of these departments.
There have been glimpses of quality in Can’s play at times this season for sure, especially in the attacking third – he has 3 goals this season already – but at 23, he really has got to improve. He’s a certain favourite of a lot of fans and of Klopp himself but if Can doesn’t see an upward turn in his performances soon then he may find himself as nothing but a fringe player on the sidelines.