Does Milner's arrival condemn Can to another year in defence?
For the most part of the 2014-15 Premier League season, Emre Can was selected as part of a three-man defensive unit, despite playing in midfield for the majority of his career. The 21-year-old, who made 40 appearances in his maiden season at Anfield in all competitions, is neat and tidy in possession, while he isn’t afraid of throwing himself into tackles. In fact, the German loves the physical side of the game but knows the importance of remaining disciplined, particularly in Brendan Rodgers’ 3-5-2 system.
England international James Milner is set to join Liverpool on July 1st, a transfer that has sparked discussion on where the Reds boss will deploy Can in the new season. Many supporters believe that Can’s greatest position is defensive midfield, but others claim that the German is solid defensively and helps to provide cover for the other defenders when Liverpool are forced to retreat. We discuss what Milner’s arrival could mean for Can, and how the Reds could fare next season after a disappointing campaign this year.
Last season, the Reds struggled for consistency and finished sixth in the Premier League table. A key reason for their disappointing campaign was the failure to replace Uruguay striker Luis Suarez. The 28-year-old left Liverpool for Barcelona last summer and the club failed to buy suitable replacements, as Rodgers’ side failed to challenge for the title and drifted slowly down the division. There was a clear lack of energy in the side as some players failed to buy into Liverpool’s hard-working philosophy.
With the loss of Suarez, Liverpool lacked energy and enthusiasm in attacking areas. The signing of Milner, although not on the same level as Suarez ability-wise, should help the Reds to regain their high tempo and pressing game. The former City midfielder’s stamina and energy are among his greatest traits, but his versatility also means that he can play in a number of positions. Milner is more than capable of slotting in anywhere across the midfield, has featured at right wing-back a number of times this season and has also been deployed in the ‘false nine’ role on occasion.
Milner’s ability to play in a number of roles could prove beneficial to Liverpool over the season, particularly if Rodgers needs to adjust the formation midway through a game. Although he is a completely different player to Steven Gerrard, the 29-year-old will help to revitalise a struggling midfield and should contribute a few goals over the course of the season as well. Realistically, Milner isn’t a player who will help the Reds to challenge for the Premier League title, but he’s an excellent addition to the squad. This view is mirrored by that of @TheLFCChat, who believes that, while Milner is a good signing, their rivals will be signing top-quality players.
Milner is a good signing but if hes the best we get this window,we have a huge problem arising. United will spend big and open a bigger gap.
— Anything Liverpool (@TheLFCchat) June 4, 2015
Can’s natural position may be in midfield but, unless the Reds manage to secure the services of a world-class central defender, Rodgers may choose to select him in defence again for the majority of this season. Liverpool’s current defenders are simply not good enough, or reliable enough, to feature as a back four with just two centre-backs. Can was, by far, the most consistent defensive player for Liverpool last season and they may need to continue with the German in defence for now. The Reds are much steadier with three central defenders, which allows wing-backs like Alberto Moreno to push forward and join the attack. The video below shows a few of Can’s highlights from his first season at Anfield.
Although the German has had a few hairy moments at times last season, he was Liverpool’s standout defensive player in an underwhelming campaign. In fact, Can’s unique ability to bring the ball out of defence and naturally move into a more advanced, midfield role began to cause problems for opposing sides as the Reds went on a 13-match unbeaten run. The 21-year-old’s marauding runs often helped to start counter-attacks and confuse defences, as players were unsure whether to go towards Can or keep their shape. The image below shows exactly how Can exploited indecision in the Chelsea defence to score his first Liverpool goal at Anfield.
Liverpool are targeting a top-four finish in the Premier League in 2015/16, while they will be quietly confident of earning silverware in one of the domestic cup competitions. The Reds reached the semi-final stages of both the FA Cup and Capital One Cup last season, and will be hoping that their summer acquisitions of Milner and Burnley’s Danny Ings can help them to go one better this campaign. At the time of writing, betfair are offering 18/1 on Liverpool to bounce back and claim their first ever Premier League title, while they price the Reds at 9/4 to finish in the top four and bring Champions League football back to Anfield.
The signing of Milner may mean that Can is deployed in defensive areas once again, but the German will remain at the forefront of Brendan Rodgers’ plans for the future. Can possesses talent in abundance and could be the ideal candidate to take on the ‘Steven Gerrard role’ in the next few years. Milner is an excellent squad player, but that is not to say that he will be playing week in, week out. Can will get opportunities to show his talent in central midfield, there is no doubt about that. The onus is on him to show Rodgers that he deserves to start in midfield and that his impact will help the team moving forward. And if he performs as well as he did last season, it won’t be too long before Can is the first name on the team sheet.