The Curious Case of Emre Can and whether Liverpool need a World Class Midfielder.
Since the days of Rafa, when our midfield was blessed with the likes of Steven Gerrard, Javier Mascherano and Xabi Alonso, a midfielder with a ‘world class’ passing game has been missing.
The title-challenging 2008-09’ season saw Alonso and Gerrard in their pomp, pin-pointing passes into feet, annihilating teams with midfield masterclasses. Aided by the ever-present workhorse behind them in Mascherano, the pair were enabled to dominate teams with incisive passing and creative flair from the middle of the park. The reds finished second in the league to their rival Manchester United, despite making history at Old Trafford in a famous 4-1 thrashing which seemed to swing the title in Liverpool’s favour. It wasn’t to be…United claimed their 18th league title – equalling Liverpool’s once insurmountable record.
The following summer, Benitez’s error of judgement in trying to sign Aston Villa midfielder Gareth Barry resulted in Alonso departing to Real Madrid after apparent bad blood between him and the manager. A relationship breakdown that proved costly; Liverpool weren’t the same team the following season as they slipped to seventh place in the league and had lost one of their most accomplished players.
Since then, failure to capture a real ‘midfield maestro’ in the transfer market has proven costly.
After Gerrard’s departure to the States in 2015, with Jordan Henderson taking the weighty reigns as Liverpool captain, big shoes needed to be filled. Perhaps the biggest!
Questions marks over Henderson and his ability to captain this Liverpool side has been hot topic on the tongues of the Anfield faithful ever since he adopted the weighty armband. In truth, it has become a burden on the mackem midfielder. Henderson shined during the 2013-14 season, becoming a driving force in the midfield, fulfilling Gerrard’s role as a box-to-box midfielder as Stevie’s legs started to tire. With Sturridge and Suarez able to gobble up even the most wayward of passes, our attacking prowess became forgiving of Henderson’s pitching-wedge passing style. With his work rate, energy and desire never to be questioned, it may suggest he’s much better-suited to a deep-lying role as our ‘Number 6’. He can hold this position relatively well but doesn’t perform consistently enough and not a ‘specialist’ at breaking up play and controlling the game. Henderson’s lack of progressive passing and his inability to dictate games at the highest level is his main flaw. The recent capitulation in Seville earmarked an area of concern for the reds. Not only did the defence fall to pieces but the midfield, particularly Jordan, let the team down time and time again by wasting possession. A 55% pass competition rate from our captain and holding midfielder is far below what’s required to be successful in Champions League football. It’s easy to praise his ethic and passion but it’s his inability to dominate the play that let’s him down. Too much headless rampaging, not enough composure, too little quality. Let the ball do the work!
This season, the attacking prowess is there for all to see – Salah, Firmino, Mané and Coutinho make up a formidable front quartet that regularly excuses almost any ineptitude behind them. A perfect balance of speed, flair and synergy that is breathtaking to watch. We look to Coutinho as the man to dictate play, shift the ball from side to side and break teams down. Often Liverpool’s other midfielders are too reliant on the little Brazilian. During the drab 0-0 draw to Pardew’s West Brom on a miserable Wednesday night at Anfield – Emre Can and Wijnaldum insisted on slowing the tempo down by offloading the ball to him, even when finding themselves in a better position.
Despite the ‘fab four’ all being fielded for this game, we were unable to break the deadlock – not through want of trying but a lack of tempo and urgency from our midfielders. Liverpool have dealt favourably with teams that sit back at times this season, blowing away teams like Stoke and Brighton on the road, whilst nicking wins against Palace and Burnley at home. It’s probably fair to say that this ‘type’ of game proved costly on several occasions last season and may prove detrimental once more to our current campaign.
With so much attacking talent on the pitch and with so much counter-attacking proficiency, do Liverpool really need a ‘world class midfielder’? Do we already have one?
Liverpool’s fluidity in attack is remarkable. It’s often the stagnant midfield options, especially in Klopp’s 4-3-3 formation, that caused so many problems last season. A corner had been turned to an extent, with Klopp’s pre-Christmas rotation working wonders, freshening up on and off field options with an eye on a busy winter schedule. The manager’s team selections have been somewhat dubious however, losing momentum in home draws against Everton and West Brom. With a returning Adam Lallana and a rejuvenated Oxlade-Chamberlain, the midfield options are growing. The fluid, high-energy nature of our play is suited to this type of midfield option – creating a style that is often wonderful to watch. However, it’s the games where we’re facing a flat defence where we often need a midfield dictator; a Fabregas, a Xabi Alonso…somebody to remain calm, shift the play, forcing the opposition to sweat; ultimately creating the space for our ‘power players’ to expose and punish.
Emre Can’s contract situation is unmistakably concerning for the fans and for his manager as well. Whether the player has become greedy, uneasy about lack of playing time, pressured by his agent or just too big for his boots remains unclear. Whichever way you look at it, if Can leaves next summer it’d be a huge loss and a sign of weakness for the club which exposes Klopp’s inability to tie down one of his hottest properties, for whatever reason. A regular feature for the World Champions Germany, Can is a powerful young player who repeatedly shows his worth to this Liverpool side. We arguably look a better team with him in it and we simply can’t afford to let him go without a suitable replacement. The signing of Naby Këita, after months of stiff negotiating from his current club RB Leipzig, has signs of promise as he looks to be a real asset going forward. Klopp’s determination to sign him, the apparent interest from Barcelona as well as the whopping £48 million release clause triggered, suggests that Liverpool made a real high quality signing in the summer. He looks to be more like a midfield ‘dynamo’ than a ‘maestro’ as such. His high-energy, one-touch passing, goal scoring, surging runs, biting tackle all suggest he could be the perfect fit for this Klopp team.
Perhaps Liverpool don’t need a new Xabi Alonso…Perhaps his game wouldn’t be suited to Klopp…Perhaps the energy, fitness and desire required in midfield is more important than passing range and technique if your forward players are so good. If Liverpool manage to retain Can’s services, whilst welcoming the arrival of Këita in the summer, the red’s midfield may already be set for next season. If Emre Can leaves and Këita’s performances in the Bundesliga don’t cut it the Premier League, then our midfield suddenly becomes threadbare again and our search for a new midfield maestro goes on…
Article by Nick Pennington
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