When Brendan Rodgers startles awake from a nightmare, it's with the reverberations of a spanked crossbar ringing in his ears and a stark 0-0 burned on the inside of his eyelids. Gifted though he may be at conjuring flowery language about clean sheets, it still feels like he could find more to admire about a five goal loss than he could the splitting of points thanks to stout defending.
One can perhaps imagine a twinge of regret on the part of the Antrim native for the defensive revolution he has overseen over the last few months. Mercifully, for his sake, Rodgers' defensive foundation is built on offensive talent that many forward lines would envy. And where offensively gifted defenders are concerned, the most impressive piece of Liverpool's mercurial unit is one who may exemplify exactly what the ideal Liverpool player is these days: Emre Can.
A great many remarkable things have been achieved by mankind. Terrible things, as well. The cosmos have further combined to create countless natural phenomena for us to wonder and despair over during our existence. All of it, though, taken as one, still pales in comparison to the heart stopping, coma inducing glory that is Emre Can's crop of obsidian hair. Equipped with all of the tall, dark, and handsome, the ravishing German-Turk flicks his side-part back after a crunching slide tackle in the rain and we are given certainty of the existence of Fowler.
Shockingly, unbelievably, unfairly, it's not just the hair. It's not just the smouldering looks. It's the bloody game. With an explosive frame that would suit a starting middle linebacker and feet that seem as interchangeable as they are articulate, Liverpool's #23 has enough of the fire physically and skills-wise to be considered a world class prospect. The fact that he marries those gifts with an understanding of, and vision for, the game is what has some reasoning that he may not be far off world class right now. And for those of us choking back squeaks as his natural leadership comes to the fore, it's become apparent Emre Can could hit heights in Red that few could have expected when he arrived.
One of the main reasons these projections don't seem utterly preposterous is the sheer variety in the man's game. It's not that it's any one thing - it's that it's all of them. And that is something that rhymes for a fan base that has spent the last 17 years having their collective faces melted by a Captain Fantastic.
Consider Can's performance in what could be couched as a drab nil-nil affair versus Everton:
10th minute - Ball gets knocked out in favor of Everton, with Can out of position. He quietly picks the ball up as he jogs back to his area before relenting possession, subtly buying his side time to reorganize in the charged early throes of.
27th minute - Tracks danger to the opposite side of the field and wins a shoulder barge on Romelu Lukaku. This would happen quite a lot.
33rd minute - Steps up threateningly on the inside right channel around 20 yards from Everton's goal.
34th minute - Takes part in an ill-fated set piece exchange with Gerrard, nonetheless demonstrating the dynamic potential uses for Can.
47th minute - A honey-dipped touch inside under pressure from Mirallas. Suck it, Kevin.
48th minute - Presses all the way up the right wing, covering Ibe's movement.
52nd minute - Carries the ball forward from defense to attack, and after passing it on, slots calmly into the CAM area.
54th minute - Collects the clearance off a Gerrard corner in the right channel and turns onto his left foot to ping a peach to the left side of the box. The subsequent Evertonian clearance releases Steven Naismith, who Can tracks, ultimately ushering the ball out of bounds and into Red possession.
70th minute - Steps up into the right channel, collecting possession in the box, almost conjuring a shot for a teammate.
73rd minute - With Lukaku clear on goal from a long ball over the top Can combines a great angle with great pace, taking possession as he holds off the Belgian, and calmly proceeds to juice young Romelu several times, before finally drawing a foul from the bemused Toffee. LMFAO.
76th minute - Gets done on the flank by Lukaku, leading to an Everton corner after good covering by Skrtel and Henderson.
82nd minute - Steps into possession in the right channel and plays a ball to Sturridge that ultimately ends in a dangerous low cross from Ibe.
83rd minute - Delivers a peach wide right to Ibe to maintain the pressure late.
91st minute - Calmly sees out a ball into Red possession by holding Lukaku off with his body. All day.
While that does not encompass everything that the German was involved with, suffice it to say that Emre stamped his authority on that day's proceedings. With two victories following on from that scoreless draw, the derby looks more and more a point earned, rather than the rueful farewell to Gerrard it felt like on the day. Take full points against annoyingly well placed Southampton, and it could look better still.
Yet it's not just about results; not just that Can has produced as much for the bottom line as anyone has this year. It's the way in which he does it and what he represents to the side. Great business. Positional flexibility. Strength. Calm. Youth. Class. Leadership. Growth. Tactical revelations. Defensive solidity. Less Lovren. Hnngmphthff.
For our duckets, and from a global perspective, Raheem Sterling is still the club's most important player. He sets the standard for the academy, his impact increasingly belies his youth, and he underscores the best of the Rodgers/FSG era in a way that no other Red does. However, in what feels like the blink of an eye, Emre Can has demonstrated that he may be a cornerstone piece in his own right. He shows how not every signing has to be years off the first team, nor cost eye watering sums. Liverpool exploited market inefficiencies perfectly and got a player who improves the team's quality in depth at nearly every level of the pitch. And he just turned 21. And hair.
As Rodgers scans the training pitch these days, he must be thinking one of two things: a.) No way in hell am I letting my daughter anywhere near the club gala this year, or b.) We really got something going here. Because with Sterling, Markovic, and Lallana, with Sturridge frothing up nicely, with Henderson and Sakho, with Ibe joining the party like he was there all along, with Mignolet's missus barbing him into form, with Moreno (well, actually, Moreno's grounded), with Sexinho, and with Emre Muthalovin Can - there is a melding of talent that is ready to secure Champions League status. Rodgers has a set of options that pleases the eye no matter what permutation he selects. He has an average age that projects to hit it's peak three or so years down the line, even as it's ready to win now. He has a brewing culture. The makings of legend, of a way.
Admittedly, there are still lots of different ways it can play out from here, and plenty of growing pains to be had. There is still the potential for tears. But in the third year of Brennyball, the scenario that has our tips all frosted is that Liverpool are a footballing behemoth in the making. The potential isn't to snag some silver, it's to consistently challenge for all of it. Can we do it? Emre Can.