The conventional wisdom is that, without Adam Lallana or Philippe Coutinho in to provide a little bit of lateral guile, Liverpool’s midfield can tend to struggle against sides that pack in deep to frustrate them. Against sides that give them space to attack into, though, they can be deadly.
Hoffenheim set up as if to prove that on Wednesday, pushing high and leaving Liverpool acres to romp into as they transitioned defence into high-speed attack time and time again. It was a textbook example of how not to defend against Jürgen Klopp’s side, and it was all great fun to watch.
Or at least it was for Liverpool fans. And it looked like it would have been fun on the pitch, too. Certainly it was for Emre Can, who had the first two-goal game of his senior career as part of a storming performance that saw the midfielder happy to exploit the space Hoffenheim gave him.
“It was a big day for me,” Can said following the 4-2 victory that earned the Reds a spot in the Champions League. “I think it was the first game I scored two goals in my career, but the most important thing is that we won the game and that I could help the team with the goals.”
Against sides that sit deep, mark tight, and seek to frustrate, Liverpool have at times already struggled this season. Against Hoffenheim’s naivety, though, they looked a side capable of making some real noise in Europe this season. They also looked a side that Arsenal should be afraid of.
After drawing with Watford and beating Crystal Palace in the league, Liverpool now face Arsenal. And given Arsenal’s at times questionable defending and tendency to play an open game, it seems a match that sets up perfectly for Liverpool’s current midfield and attack.
“It would have been nice if I’d scored a hattrick,” Can added. “But maybe one day, [and] I’m happy to have such good teammates, it’s just fantastic. You see Sadio [Mané], [Mohamed] Salah, [Roberto] Firmino. Everyone is attacking. It’s brilliant to play with them.”
Especially when they take on a side that plays a high line; a side willing to at least try to come out and play a little bit of football. Like Hoffenheim on Wednesday evening and, in all likelihood, Arsenal on Sunday. Which would be as good a time as any for Can to get that hattrick.