The Emre Can Role: How the Starlet Can Make the Marauding Centre-Back Role his Own

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Tom McMahon argues that Emre Can’s abilities are best suited to that of a marauding wide centre-back and how he can redefine the role as his own. 

When dissecting Emre Can’s exceptional performance against Bolton in Liverpool’s 2-1 victory in the FA Cup, it’s difficult to decide which dimension of his play caught the eye the most.

His composed and assured defending? His calmness and technique to play the ball from defence? His powerful drives through midfield? His curling through-ball to assist Raheem Sterling’s excellent volley? His thunderbolt of a shot which hit the crossbar?

Can has certainly showed incredible versatility – and incredible quality – throughout his short tenure so far for The Reds.

His myriad of talents and flexibility does raise yet another question; where is Emre Can’s best long-term position?

With the potential tactical conflict of marauding runs through midfield yet poised performances in a reinvigorated and robust defensive-line which, it’s difficult to confine the German youth international to one specific role in the team.

Some will suggest that his talent going forward is wasted in deep positions, and that a midfield role would be best canvas to allow the German youth international to flourish – particularly after his dominant display against Bolton in the middle of the park.

This does, however, raise the debate of whether Can’s attributes are the right match to thrive in a Rodgers midfield.

To beat the opposition’s press and to connect play between defence and attack requires a high degree of agility, acceleration and fitness; while there’s certainly a strong argument that Can would do a fine job in Lucas Leiva’s current position, it perhaps wouldn’t leverage the very best of Emre Can’s abilities.

It’s a fit, but not a perfect fit between player and system.

So, why restrict Can to a conventional defensive or midfield position when he’s been truly outstanding in his current position in a defensive three? Can’s qualities conjoin perfectly to that of a marauding centre back role in a defensive three.

The ball-playing and roaming centre-back isn’t a new concept to football; the likes of Franz Beckenbauer and Liverpool’s own Alan Hansen all showed a degree of elegance and confidence with the ball at their feet.

It’s this pizazz which made them world-class defenders – the combination of assured defending and runs from the deep gave them a unique added value and idiosyncrasies in their play.

Sound familiar?

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Saturday, November 8, 2014: Liverpool's Emre Can in action against Chelsea's Nemanja Matic during the Premier League match at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

That’s not to suggest that Can is world class (yet), but long-term he has the potential to make the marauding wide centre-back role his own. His ceiling is high in midfield, but he’ll never be the complete midfielder in a Rodgers system – but he can become the complete, all-rounded defender to take The Reds to the next level.

Imagine marking a Liverpool side playing the current 3-4-3 formation. You have half an eye on the likes of Raheem Sterling and Philippe Coutinho who drop into midfield areas, so know you need to mark them closely to stop them wreaking havoc.

Suddenly, a stampeding Emre Can drives through the midfield towards goal – do you close him down or stay with the marker? This kind of spontaneity is what can define results; it breaks down the opposition’s organisation and creates tension and uncertainty.

This can of course leave Liverpool open for the counter if Emre Can is dispossessed. But the beauty of the 3-4-3 formation is that once Can triggers the run from midfield, the wing-backs can retreat to form a temporary traditional back-line. Or alternatively, Lucas can drop deep to become an auxiliary centre-back until Can returns.

It would take some coaching but it’s certainly possible.

Regardless of the position in which Emre Can eventually settles in, he has shown the signs of being an assured purchase from The Reds – particularly for a mooted price of under £10 million. But why restrict Can to a conventional defensive or midfield position when he’s been truly outstanding so far in his current position in a defensive three?

The best players simply don’t slot into a position, but almost create one on their own. Pundits often hammer-home the likes of the Makelele or Zola roles, and for good reason – they helped redefine their respective positions.

If Can continues his development at Liverpool, they may have to add another role to the list.

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