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How Emre Can Fits Liverpool Team for Premier and Champions League Next Season

Leverkusen's Emre Can during the German first division Bundesliga soccer match between Borussia Moenchengladbach and Bayer 04 Leverkusen in Moenchengladbach, Germany, Friday, Feb. 7, 2014. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)
Frank Augstein/Associated Press
Karl MatchettFeatured ColumnistJune 5, 2014

Liverpool have all but completed their second signing of the summer, with Bayer Leverkusen midfielder Emre Can on the verge of a switch to the Reds for around €12 million.

The official club website reported that the deal was agreed "in principle," with other sources, including Liverpool Echo's Neil Jones, stating the move would go through on July 1.

LFC will sign Emre Can from Bayer Leverkusen. He will move to Anfield on July 1.

— Neil Jones (@neiljonesecho) June 5, 2014

While Can is not yet a leading light in European football, he is certainly an immensely talented youngster who has the potential to improve significantly over the coming campaigns. A versatile and technical player, he'll offer further depth to the Liverpool squad and can challenge for a starting position in the Reds' team during the 2014-15 campaign.

 

What Can Emre Can Do?

First and foremost, he's a player comfortable between both penalty areas, picking up possession deep and happy to sporadically surge forward into the opposite half of the field.

Michael Probst/Associated Press

Though he naturally gravitates toward the left channel when playing in his preferred midfield role, Can is a right-footed player, though comfortable passing and controlling with either foot. Brendan Rodgers' preference for technical, confident footballers is perfectly addressed by Can's tendencies; the German-born player will not hesitate to dribble his way out of a situation, will happily take high balls down in crowded areas and favours sweeping, lofted passes of his own to open up the pitch.

His penchant for dribbling past an opponent can sometimes be seen close to his own penalty box, a risky trait which carries the threat of disaster, but this is one of many examples of the confidence that Can has which Rodgers will need to nurture, encourage and develop—in the right areas.

Excited by Emre Can. Gifted and gusty, young and versatile. The kind of player Brendan Rodgers will relish developing. #LFC

— Melissa Reddy (@1stLadyOfFooty) June 5, 2014

Emre Can: Of U21 players with 5+ apps in Europe’s top 5 leagues last season, only 2 averaged more dribbles per game than Can (2.5) #LFC

WhoScored.com (@WhoScored) June 5, 2014

A well-built player, Can has a good speed when running at full-pelt, though does not exactly possess tremendous acceleration.

At his best, Can is a player who will turn on the ball, run into space and then suddenly begin to drive with purpose at the opposition, checking infield past defenders and looking to line up a final shot or pass.

Michael Probst/Associated Press

All of that covers mainly his on-the-ball qualities and offensive talents, but he's also a competent and reliable defensive worker, who frequently looks to make challenges and reads the game well. In both instances, his decision-making on when to make those interceptions and tackles can be improved, but the fact that his willingness and inclination to do the defensive side of the game is already in place is a huge attraction.

Emre Can won 60 tackles for Leverkusen last season. Of players under-21 in the Bundesliga, only Johannes Geis won more (79).

Squawka Football (@Squawka) June 5, 2014

 

Where Will He Fit?

Can is a midfield player, but he featured for a large portion of the season at left-back for Bayer Leverkusen in 2013-14. While he may provide additional full-back cover for the Reds next term, the assumption has to be that he is coming in to further his career in the centre of the park.

Liverpool utilised two main systems in their successful run over the second half of last season, both involving a 1-2 shape in midfield: The diamond and the 4-3-3.

Can would most naturally slot into the left-sided central role of the two ahead of a controller—nominally Steven Gerrard, the Liverpool captain—to make use of his ability to press, his strength and his technical ability on the ball.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 21:   Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers speaks with Joe Allen during the Barclays Premier League match between Liverpool and Cardiff City at Anfield at Anfield on December 21, 2013 in Liverpool, England.  (Photo by Clive Brun
Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

In the diamond, he naturally provides cover down the channels defensively for the otherwise unprotected full-back, while he has the capacity to pass forward quickly, play narrow when required and make runs from deep into the final third. That would put him as a direct rival and competitor for the place of Joe Allen, who most frequently impressed from that area last term.

In a 4-3-3, with an additional man in attack wide of him, Can could be seen more through the middle as a late arrival in the penalty area, very similar to Jordan Henderson last season when playmaker Philippe Coutinho played the right-centre role in that system.

Additionally, Can has the longer-term capacity to play the controlling role with his range of passing and defensive competence, so he provides short-term cover for Gerrard if required.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - MAY 11:  Steven Gerrard of Liverpool in action during the Barclays Premier League match between Liverpool and Newcastle United at Anfield on May 11, 2014 in Liverpool, England.  (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

All told, Reds fans shouldn't be surprised to see Can operate in at least three positions, if not four, during the course of the campaign, especially with Rodgers' penchant to develop players as all-round footballers rather than single-role functionaries.

Will Can be a starter? Yes...but not an absolute, guaranteed first-name-on-the-team-sheet player.

He has the ability already to take the place of, say, Joe Allen and not have the team notice any detriment to quality on the field—a vital addition to squad depth, therefore. And, of course, he can develop far more over the coming seasons.

If the Reds have identified another top-class central midfielder though, to come in and offer further creativity, defensive solidity or goal threat from deep, then Can may be one of the first subs more often, rather than a regular starter. As things stand, he's a player the Reds could expect to start around the 25-35 matches-in-all-competitions mark. Having said that, even at 20 years of age, he's more experienced in Liverpool's European competition this season than most of his new team-mates.

7 - Last season, Emre Can featured in seven out of Bayer Leverkusen's eight Champions League games. Experience. #LFC

OptaFranz (@OptaFranz) June 5, 2014

 

The Next Steps for Club and Can

Naturally, the deal must be properly completed, which is expected to be at the start of July. After that, Can will join up with the Liverpool squad for preseason, where his integration into the team will begin.

For the Reds, they will turn their attentions to other targets, with full-backs still high on the list of priorities. It seems likely an attacking midfielder and a central defender may well follow, but in Can they have added another name to the squad, bought quality as well as promise, and they continue to shape the side for a challenge on four fronts next season.

Liverpool's season review for 2013-14 is available here in paperback or for Kindle.

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