PROFILE | Liverpool and Germany midfielder Emre Can

I generally find comparing players rather tiresome. Why do we feel the need to define a player from the definitions of other players? Why can’t we just see a player as he is, without making any assumptions or comparisons. We often deem someone unworthy or not good enough due to the comparisons made by fans. We more than often experience the dread of seeing another “new Thierry Henry” or “new Mesut Özil” emerge. However, even though I find comparisons to be rather tedious, I do accept that they are in fact necessary.

In 2003, the German historian Jürgen Kocka wrote an article for History and Theory called ‘Comparisons and beyond’ in which he states that comparisons help to identify questions and to clarify profiles of single cases. While he was talking about historical comparisons, it’s still relevant in our area of interest. Making connections in football has become necessary. We can’t just watch a player and think “that’s a new type!” We constantly feel the need for comparisons. And many of these correlations do help us identify different player types and questions surrounding the sport we love.

Liverpool midfielder and Juventus target Emre Can is no different. He has been called “the next Özil” and he has been called “Sami Khedira’s heir.” However, Can is not like Özil in any way, nor is he a copy of Khedira. Can is his own type of player but to understand his attributes and what they are good for, we need to compare him to well-known players like Özil and Khedira. Anyway, let’s stop discussing the methods of profiling a player and let us profile the Germany international. In this article, I will look at Can and his career, his apparent attributes, his potential attributes, his best roles and what he can offer his new club Juventus, whom he’s heavily rumoured to join.

Can is certainly a very intriguing player. For his age, the Germany international is certainly an interesting player regarding his importance at Liverpool but the fact that he’s so versatile makes him valuable to any side. Now, I can’t say that I’ve watched too many Liverpool games mostly due to me being discontent with the role of English football in the world, but also due to me being raised as an Arsenal fan. However, I have in fact watched lots of Can when paired with either Leon Goretzka or Sebastian Rudy in the German national team and due to the ability in Liverpool’s midfield compared to Germany’s midfield, I consider his role in the national team to be slightly more relevant.

I would call a player of Can’s ability a hybrid. When establishing what kind of a player he is, which is pivotal to a piece like one, it’s good to define the player’s role. As mentioned before, a positional conundrum, but this might be due to his role as a box-to-box midfielder. However, when Can emerged as a talent in the underrated Bayern Munich youth setup he was another young attacking midfielder with gifted feet and an eye for goal. When he took the step to join Bayer Leverkusen, it was as a playmaker in the No. 10 role, a role that is gone in modern football. Now, Can plays much deeper, he can even stop gaps at centre-back and this might be down to him having to adjust due to his favourite role going obsolete.

Him adjusting to the current tactical situation in modern football shows how competent he is. While some of the best players have struggled, Özil is one of those, with the fall of the No. 10, Can has embraced it and used this to enhance his game. He now possesses the fantastic flexibility that any manager needs and wants. The 24-year-old can because of this play as an attacking playmaker if needed, but is now perhaps more suited as a defensive playmaker or even a box-to-box midfielder.

While not official, Can is expected to join up with Juventus in the summer. The Italian giants have got a few very competent box-to-box midfielders. Blaise Matuidi and Khedira are both very good at covering both parts of the pitch and everything between and even though Claudio Marchisio has the passing range, speed and vision to play at the base of that hectic midfield, he is too injury prone to rely on. This is where I consider Can to fit right in.

His passing range is certainly a very underrated area of his game. But with the added ability of being able to play as a box-to-box midfielder, as shown in the Germany setup, Can has shown that he has the ability to do both jobs. While playing for Jürgen Klopp’s Liverpool he’s shown that he possesses both the defensive ability and the passing range needed for a defensive midfielder.

While Italian coaches tend to be rather tactically consistent and at times stubborn, Max Allegri has shown that he isn’t afraid to switch formations and some tactics. Due to his flexible approach, he needs a versatile squad, while Can would be the perfect addition. When Juventus field a 4-2-3-1, as they started the season, he can play as one of the two at the base of midfield with either Khedira or Matuidi alongside.

When Allegri fields a 4-3-2-1, Can can play as the Sergio Busquets of those three, sitting back and defending while also possessing a good enough passing foot to be able to distribute. In a 3-4-2-1, he can play as either one of the central midfielders or as the central defender, considering the one that plays at the heart of the defence often acts as the ball-playing defender, becoming a defensive controller when in possession of the ball.

Moreover, Can has a tendency to score fantastic goals. That bicycle kick against Watford and his goal for Germany against Azerbaijan are both monuments of his goalscoring abilities. Because of this and his very remarkably underrated speed and technique, he can also play as a central playmaker in a Juventus side. However, that wouldn’t be feasible due to Paulo Dybala’s abilities in that exact role. However, it is another example of Can’s tactical flexibility.

I would consider the German to be a perfect signing for Juventus. He is Khedira’s heir at both Juventus and in the national team. There are some questions to be asked regarding his ability at the highest level. He has mainly played for Germany against minnows and even though Liverpool is a massive club, Juventus now once again compete at the highest of levels and Can needs to prove himself once again.

That said, he has already coped with two very physical leagues, Bundesliga and Premier League, so the physicality of Serie A should not be a big problem. Nor should adjusting to life in Turin be a problem, mainly because of Khedira’s sole existence. I suppose Can would have the perfect foundation to build upon at Juventus.

Another question I have regarding his ability is if Can is able to cope with being pressed on a weekly basis. Very few teams in England have a pressing system like Napoli’s or even Roma. Will he, as a defensive controller, be able to cope with being constantly pressed by frenetic attacking midfielders?

Can at the Bianconeri is in my opinion a match made in heaven. He has all it takes to make it at this level. He has the foundation. The pillars are already there. Now it’s up to him to finish the atrium and compete for a place in the German World Cup starting XI.

By Axel Falk.


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