For a long stretch last season, Emre Can could make the breakthrough into Liverpool's first team. He seemed to impress during most of his appearances in the midfield, but Brendan Rodgers brought him out of the starting eleven as quickly as he brought him in, even with a midfield that was providing little in the way of inspiration. Without an identified role and, rightly or wrongly, behind each of Steven Gerrard, Jordan Henderson, and Joe Allen on the depth chart, Can was forced to bide his time until the chances came more regularly.
They finally did, albeit in an unfamiliar role as part of a radical overhaul in Liverpool's system. With Henderson and Lucas the preferred midfield duo, Can found himself operating as the right-sided central defender in a back three, given license to get forward with the more assured defensive presence of Lucas in the midfield. His showings weren't perfect, but he was one of the stronger performers through the squad's best stretch of the season, cementing a regular place alongside Martin Skrtel and Mamadou Sakho.
Around the time that Lucas and Sakho fell injured, however, the run frayed at the edges, and as the bottom fell out of Liverpool's season, so too did Can's form. The 21-year-old was shuffled around at the back, eventually settling in a right back role that proved nothing short of disastrous, culminating in a horrendous display in the season's final match away to Stoke City.
The defensive roles--and difficulties that came with them late in the season--were temporary ones according to Can, who has struck a confident figure when discussing his spot in the team for next season:
"The Premier League is the best league in the world for me. This is primarily a physical challenge, higher tempo, more duels. In the Bundesliga, I thought that I'm already well built. Then in England suddenly there are players with incredible stature. I'll be playing my best position soon, which is central midfield. (Rodgers) knows about it & sees it the same way I do."
Can's comments come on the heels of assertions from Germany U21 boss Horst Hrubesch that he was told by the Liverpool hierarchy that the player "will be taking over for Steven Gerrard" starting next season. It will be interesting to see how his more immediate future pans out, as the signing of James Milner and status of Jordan Henderson appear to fill two of the midfield roles straightaway. That leaves Can, Lucas, and Joe Allen to fight for a third spot depending on the setup, and while Can might be the most forceful, especially in possession, Lucas is clearly the best option in defensive midfield. Can may project there later in his career, but right now he has no business as the holding option, with a box-to-box role seemingly best suited to his skillset and playing style.
However it ends up, Liverpool look like strengthening defensively to allow Emre Can to feature more regularly in a role that he--and, apparently, the club--prefer, and that can only be a good thing. Even when deployed in central defense, he proved capable of helping push Liverpool forward, and his physical presence and workrate would undoubtedly be an asset in a midfield lacking in inspiration at times last season.
Germany's U21s will be back in action on Saturday evening against Denmark, who won their opener against Czech Republic by a 2-1 scoreline. After featuring in central midfield from the start against Serbia on Wednesday, Can is expected to once again make Hrubesch's starting eleven.
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