In a year of failed signings, Emre Can is possibly the only one that merits a degree of praise.
However, after being initially signed as a midfielder, his breakthrough came only after he was thrust into a center back role in Brendan Rodgers’ three-man defensive formation.
In that central role in the back, Can blossomed, demonstrating composure under pressure and skill on the ball. Can gave everyone reason to believe that this could be his natural position.
However, with the departure of Liverpool’s longtime captain Steven Gerrard, the midfield is without a commanding leader and thus, the dilemma surrounding Can’s position begins.
While the spotlight shone on Can during his spell in defense, it came as no surprise that when Liverpool were in need of a spark later on in a game, Can would slide further up the field. When that occurred, Liverpool’s attack was immediately bolstered by the 21-year-old’s presence in the centre of the park, as his confidence on the ball lead to strong runs and forward movement.
Can has stated that he sees himself in Liverpool’s midfield next season, especially since there is big hole to be filled there with the departure of Gerrard. In a chat with The Anfield Wrap podcast, Can was hopeful of playing in midfield after discussions with Rodgers.
“[Brendan] talks all the time with me,” Can said. “He sees me as a midfield player and I hope next year to be playing in midfield.”
He clearly desires to play in his favourite position, but with the majority of his strong performances coming in defense, where is Can’s best position?
Bought as a midfielder from Bayer Leverkusen, Can found it difficult to break into the first team at the beginning of his Liverpool career as Gerrard, Jordan Henderson and Lucas Leiva all occupied his favourite position.
Liverpool supporters caught a glimpse of what he could do in midfield when Can scored a fortunate deflection against Chelsea, but nobody quite knew how good he was until his breakthrough in the back three.
Dejan Lovren and Kolo Toure’s shortcomings in defense paved the way for Rodgers to try what seemed to be an unorthodox 3-4-3 formation for a team struggling to stay in the top half of the table in December, but thanks to Can’s contribution as a center back, Liverpool came as close as they did to a top four finish.
Can was at times, a defensive liability due to his lack of experience in the back but overall, he provided a spark for a team that needed one.
Can had a much larger impact on Liverpool’s defense over the course of the year but with Martin Skrtel and Mamadou Sakho along with Lovren and Toure, Rodgers has plenty of choices in the middle of the defense for next season.
However, in midfield, other than Jordan Henderson, there are no certainties. The vacancies in that area along with Can’s skill-set are why he belongs in Liverpool’s midfield for the 2015-16 campaign.
Can is not going to be Gerrard, but his presence in the midfield would still benefit Liverpool.
For example, Can hasn’t shown that he possesses Gerrard’s long range passing or his ability to shoot from distance, while Henderson has showcased some of that ability.
Can however, could be able to play a holding role with defense and possession in mind, which would allow Henderson to push forward comfortably and play to more of his abilities.
Can’s skill-set also shows that he can develop into a player that brings a lot more to the table than Joe Allen or Lucas, meaning Liverpool would benefit more from the youngster playing in his preferred position.
The one question that remains is, would Liverpool miss Can in defense? In my opinion, the answer there is no.
While Can was able to bolster the defense during Liverpool’s improbable start to the 2015 calendar year, he isn’t quite adept enough defensively to remain in a central role with a four man defense.
When Rodgers’ formation was stumped by many teams following it’s success, the return to a four-man defense included Can at right back, where his abilities were limited and his flaws were there to see.
In an upcoming season where many players (and managers for that matter) have to prove themselves, Can is higher on that list than many may think.
A good debut campaign was a strong start, but he must now follow it up with a stellar one and one in which he finds the right position.
Versatility is a double-edged sword as it allows Can to play a variety of positions and help the club in various ways, but it also creates a lack of certainty which is why Can’s position for next season has caused such a predicament.
But because of his improved defensive skills and understanding, coupled with his confidence in possession, the midfield is the best place for Can to showcase his abilit, and it is the position that he can do the most to help Liverpool excel in the Premier League and beyond.