Emre Can finally earned regular playing time in the midfield role this season, immediately proving why everyone raved about his potential. Can performed as the quintessential box to box midfielder, contributing in Jürgen Klopp’s high octane pressing game while also making lung-busting runs into the final third. Can’s excellent performances really established his status as the heart and soul of the Liverpool F.C. It was clear how influential it was for Can to return early from an ankle injury in time for the Reds’ second leg against Villarreal. Can gives everything he has for Liverpool every time out truly endearing himself to the fanbase and his manager. The German’s breakout season has seen Can established as one of the Premier League’s best young midfielders. At just 22 years old, 2015-2016 is just the beginning of what promises to be an exceptional career at Anfield.
Can’s physical approach is perfectly suited to the bruising nature of the Premier League. Mainly operating in a double pivot in Klopp’s preferred 4-2-3-1 formation, Can excels as Liverpool’s destroyer in the center of the park. Averaging a robust 2.8 tackles, 2 interceptions, and 1.5 clearances per match in all competitions, Can does an excellent job breaking up plays and regaining possession. The German won an exceptional 87.3% of tackles, 52.6% of duels, and 52.9% of aerial duels in league play. For comparison, Leicester City’s box to box midfield ace Danny Drinkwater averaged 3 tackles, 1.6 interceptions, and 1.9 clearances per match albeit in 13 fewer appearances than Can. Even though Drinkwater narrowly edged Can in tackles and clearances per match, the Englishman played a significantly fewer number of matches, giving him a sizeable advantage over the course of a long season. Additionally, Can was actually better than Drinkwater in his percentage of tackles won, duels won, and aerial duels won in domestic play. It’s a legitimate argument that Can outperformed Drinkwater in the Premier League this season. Liverpool’s ridiculous number of matches surely took a toll on Can’s fitness levels as the season wore on whereas Drinkwater rarely had to play more than one match per week. Despite this, Can still outperformed the Leicester midfielder in a majority of defensive metrics, illustrating just how adept the German is operating in the center of the park.
Can is not just a defensively minded midfielder that is limited in his passing and contributions in the final third. Can’s pass accuracy was a solid 82.2% in all competitions, while also averaging one key pass per match. Furthermore, Can averaged 1.3 dribbles and created 1.1 chances per Premier League match. Operating in a more defensive position, Can’s ability to create chances and support Liverpool’s attack is exceptional. Comparing him again to Drinkwater, the Englishman only completed 77.6% of his passes despite averaging four fewer passes per match than Can. Can’s ability to distribute the ball from central midfield is already exceptional even though Drinkwater was slightly better than Can with 1.3 key passes, 1.5 dribbles, and 1.3 chances created per match. The Englishman is an attack-minded player whereas Can loves to exert his physicality on the defensive side of the game. Additionally, Drinkwater was supplying his passes to the ultra-productive likes of Jamie Vardy and Riyadh Mahrez whereas Can was having to play with the profligate Christian Benteke throughout the first half of the season. Can still has room for development in his attacking contributions, but the 2015-2016 season illustrated how effective the German already is in his passing and effectiveness in the final third. As Can develops the attacking of his game, he has the potential to contribute upwards of 5-10 goals per season as another creative attacking outlet from a deeper position.
For all of Can’s exploits this past season the German still has room to improve. Often times Can will become overly aggressive, causing him to pick up needless yellow cards. The German was booked twelve times in 49 matches including a short suspension in the Premier League for yellow card accumulation. While Can’s enthusiasm and passion are part of what makes him such a dynamic player, he needs to control his emotions in order to avoid needless bookings and defensive errors. In addition to Can’s twelve yellow cards, the German also made five defensive errors in only 30 Premier League appearances. As a young player, it is expected that Can will make errors, but these mistakes need to be eliminated if he is to become one of the best players in England. Again, Can is only 22 years old and even though he plays well beyond his years there are still aspects of his game that will be improved in the natural maturity process.
Klopp is a huge fan of his compatriot and his support will be pivotal in Can eventually becoming one of the best players in the Premier League. Can’s passion and work ethic—he trained eight hours per day while out injured so that he could come back before the end of the season—is fantastic and will be one of the driving factors in his development. Now that the midfielder finally has a manager that plays him in his natural position, Can has made it obvious just how talented he is in the center of the park. Although he may be a little rough around the edges right now, all of Can’s weaknesses are fixable and the German’s work ethic will ensure these issues are worked out. Already a fan favorite, Can’s strong performance this season is just the start of a Liverpool career that is poised to be incredibly successful.