The arrival of Jurgen Klopp as Liverpool manager in October has sparked an upturn in fortunes for a number of players within the current Reds squad—as well as an overall improvement on the field of play—with few more so than German midfielder Emre Can.
Speaking ahead of Klopp's appointment, days after the dismissal of Brendan Rodgers, Can told German publication Die Welt (h/t the Liverpool Echo) that his countryman was "a great coach."
"I think he has demonstrated in Dortmund that he can work at any team in the world," he continued, toning down his profound excitement at the prospect of being paired up with one of the most successful managers in the Bundesliga in recent years.
During his time with Bayern Munich and Bayer Leverkusen, Can will have been familiar with the methods of Klopp, but under the 48-year-old's management, the midfielder has truly blossomed.
But just how important is Can to Klopp's Liverpool? Analyse his influence, and the German proves to be integral.
Joining Liverpool from Leverkusen in 2014, in a deal worth £10 million, Can was lauded by Rodgers as "an exciting young talent."
"We have tracked his progress for some time and I have been impressed with his attitude and qualities when I have seen him play both in the German Bundesliga and the Champions League," he told the club's official website.
"He has many of the attributes we look for; charisma on the football pitch and courage to want the ball and make things happen."
With Steven Gerrard's star waning on Merseyside, the 22-year-old was ostensibly signed to ease the captain's transition out of a key role under Rodgers, with this charisma and courage pivotal to his success in doing so.
The No. 23 took time to settle into the Liverpool first team—and understandably so, given he was 20 when he signed—but he sparked his career with a long spell at centre-back, starting in a 1-0 win away to Burnley on Boxing Day in 2014.
Regularly stationed on the right-hand side of a three-man defensive line, joining Martin Skrtel and Mamadou Sakho, Can showcased his ability as a progressive, ball-playing centre-back, also deputising at right-back towards the end of an ill-fated campaign.
But with Liverpool finishing sixth in the Premier League in 2014/15, and Rodgers' reputation flagging as he moved into the current campaign, Can's role came under question—was he being scapegoated in an unnatural role?
The German's talents were stifled by a restrictive, defensive outlook, and Rodgers recognised this, telling the Liverpool Echo's Andy Kelly in August that he saw his future in the "controlling" role:
Whatever role he's asked to play he has this inbuilt brain for football that allows him to adjust and adapt.
But when I met him I asked him his preferred position, where he sees himself playing and that was as a controlling midfield player and that's where I've always felt he'll be an outstanding talent for us.
I think his passing range, his strength, his power he's best in midfield and I think once again he's finding his fitness.
Working on his fitness throughout pre-season, Can started 2015/16 at the heart of Rodgers' midfield—but, disappointingly, as the Ulsterman retreated into a conservative approach with his job prospects dwindling, the German was shifted back into defence.
In Rodgers' final three league games as Liverpool manager, Can was deployed as a centre-back, again alongside Skrtel and Sakho in a 3-4-2-1 formation; again, his tremendous ability was nullified.
But with Liverpool's owners John W. Henry and Tom Werner sacking Rodgers after October's 1-1 draw away to Everton and bringing in Klopp days later, Can was liberated.
Bar December's 2-0 loss away to Newcastle United, where he was forced to sit out due to suspension, Can has started every league game since Klopp's arrival in the midfield.
He has shifted between a shuttling, box-to-box role in a three-man unit, a holding role alongside his more dynamic colleagues and an all-round role next to Jordan Henderson in Klopp's favoured 4-2-3-1 formation.
Largely, the German has excelled—and it should be no surprise, with Can telling Sky Sports News HQ in November that he was enjoying life in his favourite position:
It is always like that [playing in different positions], but since Jurgen Klopp came I have always been played in midfield, which I think is my favourite position, and I like to play a lot there.
[Klopp] wants a lot from me, he wants me to push the team forward and to help them and that is what I want to try.
Every manager has their own style and Jurgen Klopp has his own style and that is why a lot has changed [since Klopp arrived], but I am enjoying it.
Of course I have to learn so many things and I have to work hard and then hopefully I will be better in a few years.
Can's description of his role under Klopp as a driving force in Liverpool's midfield is precise, with his remarkable energy, power and the charisma required to dominate a midfield battle key elements behind some of the Reds' most effective performances following the ex-Dortmund manager's arrival.
Liverpool are currently on a three-game unbeaten streak in the Premier League, and synonymous with each of these victories—against Aston Villa, Manchester City and Crystal Palace—are top-level displays from the Germany international.
Against both Villa and City, Can served in a hybrid role in midfield, as both playmaker and destroyer, with Henderson still working his way back to form after a troubling foot injury.
His goal against Villa, after a surging run from deep to win the ball from Leandro Bacuna, highlighted his strength as a box-to-box midfielder; starting and finishing the move with a low drive beyond Mark Bunn, Can put Liverpool 3-0 up, helping to cap a dominant display.
In Liverpool's Anfield win over City, Can provided his side with an invaluable pivot, breaking up play with efficiency—winning seven tackles and making four interceptions—and vindicated Rodgers' evaluation as a player with "courage to want the ball," enjoying more possession than any other Reds player (6.5 per cent).
Against Palace, Can provided Klopp with a tactical outlet in navigating an unfortunate red card for James Milner, dropping into a centre-back role to gain stability, before driving forward as Liverpool pushed for an unlikely comeback victory.
As Christian Benteke sent his last-minute penalty beyond Alex McCarthy to give Liverpool a 2-1 win, Can was the first player to congratulate the Belgian, who has endured a miserable maiden campaign at Liverpool.
This simple act showcased one of the most important features of Can's game as Klopp plots for the future on Merseyside: the German's natural leadership.
WhoScored.com's Dinesh Hardayal highlighted Can as the inspiration for Liverpool's revival at Selhurst Park, suggesting that the former Leverkusen man could go on to captain his club in the future:
With question marks over Henderson's suitability as Liverpool captain, Can has emerged as a true leader on the field; constantly communicating with his team-mates, the midfielder has showcased a maturity beyond his years, and this is an invaluable quality for Klopp's side.
This season, only two Liverpool players—goalkeeper Simon Mignolet (3,780) and right-back Nathaniel Clyne (3,491)—have played more minutes than Can (3,415), and in 29 appearances in all competitions since Klopp's arrival, he has completed the full 90 minutes on 24 occasions.
It is this endurance and infectious energy, that propels Klopp's side from the midfield, and pairing this with his consistency, versatility, technical quality, bullish physicality and inherent authority, Can's importance is clear.
When explaining his positive start to life under Klopp, Can said that "hopefully I will be better in a few years," and on this season's evidence so far, this should be a hugely encouraging prospect for Liverpool supporters, and a frightening one for their rivals—as this is a midfielder with world-class potential.
Statistics via Transfermarkt.co.uk.