Joseph Kavaloski looks at how Emre Can could serve Jürgen Klopp extremely well next term as a utility player.
Emre Can has had the definition of a roller coaster season in 2016-17. The start of the season was frustrating for the German as he battled through fitness problems related to his international duties over the summer.
Around mid-season during Liverpool’s injury crisis, Can was able to regain his place, but he too succumbed to injury except that he continued playing through his calf strain. The result was a series of poor performances and ill-timed media reports of contract talks stating the German’s demand of wages close to £100,000 per week.
However, now that Can has overcome his niggling injury and put in a consistent run of games, his form has been excellent. With Liverpool’s Champions League ambitions close to coming to fruition, Can is one of Klopp’s first names on the team sheet every week.
Only three games are left in the 2016/17 season, but they will define Klopp’s transfer plans in the summer. Secure Champions League football and the Reds will be poised to make at least a couple big-name acquisitions. Miss out, though, and Klopp will struggle to bring in the quality Liverpool needs to compete in Europe and domestically.
Transfer priorities aside, Can’s contract talks will also be a significant point of emphasis for the Reds this summer. The German will be entering the final year of his contract and his importance to the side has been highlighted by Liverpool’s strong run of form.
The Reds need to resign Can.
He is not the perfect player and he goes through patches of poor form, but Klopp needs a versatile midfielder like Can. The German can be deployed in various positions in the midfield and this tactical flexibility makes him the ideal squad player for the Reds.
Liverpool has been hampered by injury problems over the second half of the season and it has revealed the team’s biggest weakness: depth. Can alone cannot solve this problem, but he can be a key part of the solution.
His ability to play a holding role, box-to-box role, and even a more front footed role behind the three attackers in Klopp’s 4-3-3 is incredibly valuable. One can make an argument that Can’s versatility has been the number one reason behind the Reds staying in pole position to earn a Champions League place despite not having Adam Lallana and Jordan Henderson in the side for months.
In essence, Can’s role in the squad going forward should be as the team’s midfield utility player. His best position is likely a number eight role where he can contribute in both attack and defence, but his sometimes wayward passing prevents him from becoming elite.
That being said, the German has scored five goals and assisted two more while also averaging 2.1 tackles, 1.1 interceptions, and 1.6 clearances per match. Can is a well-rounded player but he doesn’t excel in any particular area. That is the definition of a perfect squad player who can fill a number of roles for Jürgen Klopp going forward.
Even if Liverpool brings in another five to six players, there will still be departures that leave the Reds in need of a player like Can. Lucas’ time at Anfield appears to be up with Galatasaray linked almost every day now. Losing the Brazilian would leave the squad devoid of depth at the holding position that Can may need to fill.
In addition, Henderson has been persistently hampered with his foot issue since the fateful Europa League first leg against Borussia Dortmund a little over a year ago. As a result, the Reds could be without a regular number 6 with Henderson’s fitness issues and Lucas’ departure.
This is one place where Can’s versatility could show off its value almost immediately. Even if Henderson regains his fitness next season, the Reds will probably want to avoid playing him two times per week in fear of re-inflaming his foot. Can could, therefore, be called upon to fill this position at various times in 2017/18.
The holding position is just one spot where Can could show off his versatility next year. The Reds will surely look to add depth over the summer, but fitness issues are always an issue in football and Can’s aptitude in multiple positions could alleviate these problems.
His skill set is not quite polished enough to be a regular starter in a title-contending side, but the German can still be one of Liverpool’s most valuable players as a super-utility squad player.