Joseph Kavaloski explains why Liverpool cannot afford to lose Emre Can with the German reportedly on his way out of the Merseyside club.
A somewhat surprising rumour coming from credible sources in recent weeks has been transfer speculation regarding Emre Can. The German midfielder was a mainstay in the starting eleven last season but the transfer of Georginio Wijnaldum in the summer and the emergence of Adam Lallana and Jordan Henderson in the other two midfield spots has marginalised the former Bayer Leverkusen midfielder in 2016/17.
According to reports, Can and his representatives have been asking for a wage increase to £100,000 per week. Liverpool have shown no indication of matching these demands and with only 15 months to go on his contract, the Reds may be forced to sell Can this summer rather than lose him for nothing next year.
Part of the problem with this contract stalemate is the figurative “step back” Can has taken this season. No European competitions and fitness problems have played a role in his stalling development, but when Can has actually been on the pitch he has not been the same player from the 2015/16 season.
The German has found himself being caught out of position rather often this season and his ability to impact the game has not been the same. The most clear example of Can’s regression is in his passing.
Last year, Can averaged almost 60 passes per match. That number has dipped to 47 this campaign. Part of that can be attributed to Can often playing in central midfield rather than the holding position he filled last year, but it is obvious that his influence has noticeably declined.
Another issue with Can’s performances this season is how he has noticeably underperformed when compared to Liverpool’s other central midfielders. The man who has been the primary benefactor of Can’s struggles, Georginio Wijnaldum, has performed far better than the German and has cemented himself as a fixture in the starting eleven when fit.
As can often be the case in football, statistics truly do not tell the full story when comparing Can to his Dutch teammate. The German outperforms Wijnaldum in almost every offensive and defensive category, but when picking Liverpool’s best side, Wijnaldum will almost always be picked above Can.
Wijnaldum simply finds a way to impact a match where Can does not. The Dutchman does a great job of keeping things ticking over in the midfield. His elite 87.5% pass success rate is the clearest statistical example of how Wijnaldum is far less wasteful in possession when compared to Can (80.7%).
Can’s physicality and brutish mentality are especially useful in the Premier League and cannot be matched by Wijnaldum, but the German’s inability to link the defence and attack while also creating chances for his teammates holds him back from reaching his potential.
Can has certainly disappointed this season which is frustrating for a player who showed such promise just a year ago. However, Liverpool’s lack of depth makes a player of Can’s ilk almost as valuable as those starting every week.
Injuries are an unfortunate reality of football (especially in Klopp’s high-intensity system) and having a strong bench is paramount. Liverpool fans have learned this the hard way as various key starters suffered injuries around the turn of the year and the club has gone from title challengers to borderline Champions League qualifiers. Can is currently the team’s first substitute in central midfield, an incredibly important role in the Reds’ current circumstances.
Selling Can in the summer would only magnify Liverpool’s biggest weakness: depth. Having capable squad players is a vital part of building a successful team and that includes players like Emre Can. A replacement can be brought in to replace the German, but Can is already well versed in Klopp’s system and still has the potential to become a top-class midfielder.
The Reds will be competing in Europe next season and depth will become even more important than it already is. Even as a squad player, Can would likely make between 30-35 appearances. Finding a player who can immediately step in and perform at Can’s level (considering this season is probably Can’s performance floor) while not being assured of a first team place will not be easy to find.
Can is not worth £100,000 per week, but the two parties need to find a common ground in the stalemate. Can likely does not view himself as a squad player which could only increase his desire to leave, but Lallana is 28-years-old and the German is only one major injury away from being a long-term fixture in the starting eleven.
Liverpool needs to keep Can, and the German international is unlikely to find another Champions League quality club where he is relatively assured of 30-35 appearances per season. Hopefully these factors culminate in the two sides reaching a conclusion to this stalemate before the club is forced to make a decision on a possible transfer.