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Rodgers Tabs Emre Can as Liverpool’s New Holding Midfielder

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With Lucas Leiva on his way out and Steven Gerrard gone to the Galaxy, Liverpool need a new holding midfielder. Step forward, Emre Can.

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Mostly at centre half, sometimes at right back, it seemed at times the only thing Emre Can didn’t do much of last season was play the one place he was brought in to: midfield. In season two, though, the expectation is that he will get more time in the middle of the park. With the expected departure of Lucas Leiva, he could even end up first choice in the holding role.

It’s a role some imagined him taking on when he first arrived. After all, he’s certainly got the physical attributes to do the job. However, there remain question marks. When he has played there to date, he has shown a certain naivety, whether from youth or simply a reflection of his tactical unsuitability. His awareness and positioning can be an issue, as can a desire to chase off after the ball that leaves gaps.

Can’s desire to join in the attack can also be a problem, stranding him up the pitch while the opposition breaks. Physically, he seems well suited, but his natural instincts and a still very raw reading of the game mean he is a player who will at least will take time developing into a quality holding player. Brendan Rodgers, though, is certain he can play anywhere in midfield—including in that role.

"I think he can play and operate well in any one of the three positions," said Rodgers, speaking to the press ahead of today’s home opener against Bournemouth. "When I met Emre and having seen him play in a whole raft of positions his great attribute is that he's a footballer, he understands the game. Whatever role he's been asked to play he has the kind of football brain that lets him to adjust and adapt."

He may have the talent to develop into that, but right now at least there’s been little on the pitch evidence to support Rodgers assertion. Can is clearly a massive talent, but all the evidence suggests a box to box midfielder rather than one of the more specilised holding or attacking players. Still, the raw, physical talent is there. Plus, given he’s only 21 years old, time is clearly on Emre Can’s side.

Plus, in his own head at least, it’s the role Can sees himself filling over the longer term. And it’s also the role that, at the end of the day, Rodgers appears to expect Can will end up in. Whether he’s quite ready for it or not yet, it also seems likely he’ll be playing there quite often this year if one of the interested clubs in Italy meet Liverpool’s £8M valuation of Lucas Leiva before the transfer window closes.

"When I met him I asked him his preferred position, where he sees himself, and he said it was as a controlling midfield player and that's where I've always felt he'll be outstanding for us," added Rodgers. "You see he can play in the back three, and he’s played as one of the two centre-halves and was comfortable. But I think his passing range, his strength, his power—he's best in midfield."