Jack Hallows takes a look at the pivotal role Emre Can played against Arsenal on Saturday and why his performance is something to take note of for his teammates.
“They’re at times just too nice.” That was Jamie Carragher after the Leicester defeat on Monday night. The ex-Liverpool defender singled out Jamie Vardy’s crunching tackle on Sadio Mané in the first minute as the difference between the two sides in that game as Liverpool went down without a fight. At Anfield on Saturday night though, it was very different.
Softness is something that’s been referenced a lot in regards to Liverpool this season by fans, journalists, pundits and even at times Jürgen Klopp himself. The German prefers his side not to make ‘nasty’ tackles or earn themselves cards but there is an argument to be made that at times tactical fouls are a necessary evil.
Think back to the Spurs victory for a quick second. Dele Alli breaks away down the left hand side and Jordan Henderson gives chase. Knowing he’s not catching his countryman, the Liverpool skipper dives in and cleans the midfielder out, happy to accept a yellow card for his troubles in the knowledge that he’s saved his side from having to defend against a dangerous break.
There hasn’t been enough of that in Liverpool’s play of late so it was, in all honesty refreshing to see Emre Can tap into what This Is Anfield so ominously called his ‘dark side,’ against Arsenal. The German flew into tackles throughout the game, knocking players off the ball and looking to create mayhem in the midfield and disrupt Arsenal’s usually flowing style of play. He was in fact, lucky to stay on the pitch after his rash challenge on Walcott went unpunished despite already being on a yellow card. His challenge that did bring about a caution was, however, the perfect example of what I want more of from the Reds.
With Alexis Sánchez about to lead an Arsenal break, the German stepped in and knocked him to the ground, deliberately fouling him. It broke the Arsenal move down and knocked Sánchez both off his feet and his game as the Chilean failed to have the same impact from that moment. Can has struggled at times this season to find a balance between being a free flowing box to box midfielder and a shielding number 6 but against the Gunners he stuck to what he does best. Industry.
Positively, it was also great to see that despite James Milner wearing the armband in Henderson’s absence, it was Can who took it upon himself to rally the troops. Mignolet could be seen doing his best to organise his defence when he felt they needed it but it was Can who could be seen time and again giving his teammates an earful to focus before clattering into another strong challenge. It was reminiscent of the Emre Can we came to admire from last season’s Europa League run and certainly gives off hope that perhaps he may just have a future at Liverpool after all.