It is rare for a pair of footballers barely out of their teens to excel in positions that require them to make a number of tactical adjustments in a side where expectations generally outweigh the evidence of recent times. Liverpool FC are one of the biggest clubs in the world with a large global fanbase, and boast an illustrious history. Not many sides in Europe's most popular leagues can draw attention and secure a high number of televised games despite not securing a top division domestic league title for close to 25 years. Playing for Liverpool as a young player is not an easy task.
Within six months of arriving at the club, both Emre Can and Lazar Marković have become important to the way Liverpool work. For Can, overcoming injury and securing a chance to start games seemed to be the only barriers to making his mark. The German youth international already made his mark last season in the Bundesliga for Bayer Leverkusen, and Bayern Munich were monitoring his development with a view of bringing him back to Germany's most successful club. After a run of a few starts, culminating in an excellent goalscoring midfield display against Chelsea, he was inexplicably restricted to two substitute appearances until coming on as a defensive substitute against Burnley in late December's festive schedule. Since then, a first-team spot was in the can for Can.
Marković's first six months was a little different. A player of exceptional dribbling, movement, and acceleration showed tantalising flashes of what he could do in his two 30-minute cameos against Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur in August. The international break followed, and the Serbian youngster appeared to lack confidence as well as conviction in the final third. When it looked like he would change the game for Liverpool in a time of desperate need against FC Basel, he was sent off in curious circumstances. Liverpool failed to qualify from the groups stages of the Champions League when Marković could have been the catalyst for a revival. Two games later, an away trip to Bournemouth arrived in the middle of December and the youngster started as a left-wing back. He got his goal, produced a good performance, and grew in confidence throughout the rest of the month. Marković was making his mark.
Liverpool's victory against Sunderland featured a steady if somewhat quiet performance from Alberto Moreno, an assured display from Mamadou Sakho, a remarkable display of flexibility from Emre Can, and a decisive contribution from Lazar Marković. All will surely get better and can excel for a manager who likes to mix things up tactically. Javier Manquillo has shown a willingness at right wing back, Philippe Coutinho displayed his tenacity in central midfield last season, and Raheem Sterling continues to adapt to a variety of positions akin to a masterful chameleon. While the future is promising, young technicians with noteworthy flexibility and game intelligence litter the squad with the ability to contribute this season. These qualities are demanded by Brendan Rodgers and he used two notable examples to emphasise this.
"I want to bring in intelligent footballers who understand football and the game," Rodgers said, clearly proud of his young technicians. "And that's the beauty of those type of kids you bring in. It allows me to change the system.Lazar has been a right winger, a right midfield player and against Sunderland I put him at the top of the midfield box and he did well. Can has been a midfield player who has played in the back three and has also done very well. I like footballers and I think they are a great advert for that because they can play wherever they are asked to play."
For those wondering about where Emre Can will eventually end up in the side, Rodgers believes the Can can play in both midfield and defence. When a manager says Can "has got so much ability" and "we have not seen the best of him yet" after some accomplished performances by a player who has only just turned 21 today, one can be sure that there are big plans for the player. The ability to see a pass combined with such physicality and running power isn't a regular combination in one so young. Then there are Rodgers' comments about Lazar Marković's progress in being "aggressive with and without the ball", which was on display against Sunderland. How many 20-year-old wingers can put in such levels of work in defence and attack as a right wing back?
With each confident and crucial contribution by Liverpool's youngsters purchased in the summer, Liverpool's transfer strategy increasingly possesses greater merit. Joe Allen, Daniel Sturridge, Philippe Coutinho, Mamadou Sakho, Emre Can, Lazar Marković, Alberto Moreno, Javier Manquillo, and Adam Lallana reflect the versatility and intelligence required to thrive. There have been mistakes. There are concerns about Liverpool's transfer strategy. There must be increased quality and experience in future additions. However, Liverpool possess some of the best young players around, and thankfully, Lazar Marković and Emre Can belong to a group with much to play for in the coming months.