Jack Hallows examines Emre Can’s recent upturn in form and why it means the German’s services should be retained at all costs next season.
It’s been an up and down season for Liverpool Football Club as a whole this season and perhaps no player quite personifies this as well as Emre Can.
The German midfielder became an absolute must in Jürgen Klopp’s XI last season, often playing on the left of a midfield two in the 4-2-3-1 system predominantly used by the Reds.
As Klopp arrived at the club, Can was able to begin evolving and maturing his game so impressively that many were tipping him to be Liverpool’s next captain.
An injury hit start to the season, coupled with a number of hit and miss performances over the festive period saw a large percentage of fans calling for the German to be sold rather than given a new contract but Can has recently begun showing once again, just how unwise it would be to let him go.
Potential to become the complete, all action midfielder?
There were questions over what his best position in the midfield actually is across the first half of this season with Klopp seemingly willing to use him as a number 8 while the player himself has admitted he prefers the number 6 role.
It seems this confusion certainly contributed to the German’s inconsistency and struggles in the first half of the season. Can often looked lost – especially when playing alongside Jordan Henderson – and unsure of what his role actually was.
Now, however, Can looks just as comfortable as a box to box number 8 as he does as a number 6 and looks to be evolving towards becoming a complete midfielder.
Prior to the international break, Can was deployed as the number 6 in Henderson’s absence and put in a superbly industrious performance in each of his outings against Arsenal, Burnley and Manchester City.
His ability to inject some extra physicality was much needed against all three opponents and he is a perfect example when he’s playing well of how using some canny ‘nastiness’ can really benefit the Reds when on the back foot.
Against Arsenal the midfielder dropped Alexis Sanchez by the touchline, picking up a yellow card but preventing Arsenal from breaking and getting into a 3 on 2 situation.
It was then much the same against Manchester City – and to a lesser extent Burnley – too.
The German was sublime at the Etihad, using his strength to contest with Yaya Toure and covering practically every blade of grass as he constantly tackled, intercepted, carried the ball forward and looked to just make a nuisance of himself throughout.
In both games he also gave a welcome glimpse of his newfound ability when going forward and getting into areas around the box.
Many fans have criticised Emre’s creative and goalscoring talents across the season but his thunderous finish against Burnley from range was nothing if not Gerrard-esque while it was his dinked pass to Firmino that led to the Brazilian winning the penalty at Manchester City.
Emre Can’s return to form has been pivotal in Liverpool’s resurgence. pic.twitter.com/s2Yc1tKKro
— Rousing The Kop (@RousingTheKop) April 19, 2017
Since the international break, Can has been deployed predominantly as an 8 alongside Wijnaldum and ahead of Lucas – although he also played as a box to box style hybrid in a 3-4-3 at Stoke.
In this role, Can looks to play as the slightly more reserved of the two forward thinking midfielders and often looks to pick the ball up deep in his own half, driving forward with pace in a manner reminiscent to last season.
During the Merseyside derby the German absolutely pocketed Barkley, targeting him and winding him up across the 90 minutes in a manner that rendered him ineffective and practically useless for much of the game.
He was the same against both Bournemouth and Stoke as he looked to target both teams’ attacking midfielders, attempting to frustrate them, crowd them out and negate any influence they could possibly have on the game.
While he seems to thrive in the number 6 position and looks far more comfortable operating deeper, these performances in a slightly more advanced role have really provided me with a lot of hope that he will evolve into the complete, all-action midfielder that we need.
There was further evidence of this against West Brom Sunday afternoon when Can completed 55/68 passes, won 3 tackles, six aerial duels (no easy feat at the Hawthorns) and completed 10 defensive actions.
The German was also seen barking at team mates in an effort to keep the Reds switched on and focused and it seemed every time he picked the ball up in his half he was attempting to drive forward and get his side back on the front foot.
Looking ahead to next season
With Jordan Henderson’s injury record, it’s imperative that the Reds manage to hold onto Emre Can.
Lucas Leiva is likely to leave the club after a decade of service this summer and while Klopp will likely sign another central midfielder, depth is something the Reds haven’t had enough of this season and key players should be retained at all costs.
There is, of course, the matter of Can’s contract talks to deal with but if indeed the German’s representatives are asking for what is seen as too much money currently, there is a whole six months of next season that he can use to further prove why he would be worth a new bumper deal.
Can is a leader, capable of playing in both the number 6 and 8 positions with equal capability, has done well to improve his goals and assists record this season – he has 4 and 2 – and provides the Reds with another strong, tall presence in the middle of the park.
If Can is able to consistently show himself as the “Rolls Royce of a footballer” that Brendan Rodgers tagged him as when he signed for the Reds, then there is no way he should be allowed to leave the club.