We continue our look back over the form of Liverpool’s key players in 2014/15, with Jack Lusby looking at the performances of German powerhouse Emre Can.
When Emre Can moved to Liverpool last summer, in a £10 million deal with Bundesliga side Bayer Leverkusen, the German was arguably the most unknown player in Brendan Rodgers’ ranks.
An under-the-radar acquisition, many Liverpool supporters didn’t quite know what to expect from Can in 2014/15.
But how did he perform in his first season on Merseyside?
EMRE CAN – 2014/15
Started: 34, Unused sub: 10, On as sub: 6
Goals: 1 (in the Premier League)
Average TIA player rating: 6.49 (out of 10)
A Slow Start
On the announcement of Can’s signing, Rodgers expressed his joy at signing such a high-potential young talent, saying: “Emre is an exciting young talent and I’m delighted he’s chosen Liverpool for the next phase of his development and growth as a player.
“He has recognised that we are a club that improves and nurtures exciting, ambitious players and I’m looking forward to seeing him take those next steps forward for us.”
Those “next steps,” however, took a little longer than the likes of Alberto Moreno and Javier Manquillo, with Can not making his full debut for Liverpool until October.
This came in the 3-2 victory over Queens Park Rangers, with just a pair of substitutes’ appearances to his name previously.
In that QPR win, Can posted the third-highest passing accuracy of any player from the Reds’ starting lineup, with 84.2 percent, and made two of his now-trademark probing dribbles from midfield—it was a moderately impressive first start for the German.
These sporadic appearances continued until late December, with powerful displays against Real Madrid and Chelsea leaving supporters wondering just when he was going to be given a proper run in the first team—overall in this period, he averaged a TIA rating of 6.5.
Rodgers revealed the reason why Can was such a rarely featured figure, however, after his introduction to the side in Boxing Day’s 1-0 win away to Burnley.
Filling in at Centre-Back
“He’s got a big future here, Emre,” Rodgers said, before adding: “It’s just been curtailed a little bit from the summer when he was trying to gain his fitness and he was injured – he had an ankle issue that made him miss training and he was in and out.”
Can’s struggles to gain fitness seemed to finally come to a halt from that Burnley win onwards—he found a regular role in Rodgers’ newly implemented 3-4-2-1 formation, as an unorthodox right centre-back.
“Him coming on gave us that assurance in possession and also physicality when we didn’t have the ball,” Rodgers said of Can’s new role in that win.
Can excelled at centre-back, forming a successful defensive partnership with Martin Skrtel as sweeper and Mamadou Sakho as his left-sided counterpart.
In the 20 games that followed that Turf Moor victory, Can was part of a defence that conceded just 12 goals, or a goal every 1.7 games, keeping 10 clean sheets; Can had found a role that he excelled in, averaging a TIA rating of 6.93.
During his time at centre-back in the 2014/15 Premier League, Can averaged more tackles (3.3), interceptions (2.1, tied with Dejan Lovren), key passes (0.5) and dribbles (2.3) per 90 minutes than any other regular centre-back option in the Liverpool squad.
This run, of course, came to a halt with a 2-1 loss at home to Manchester United, and both Can and Liverpool struggled following this.
Exploited at Right-Back
Most of Can’s woes stemmed from a miserable out-of-position deployment, with Rodgers utilising him as a right-back for five of the last six games of the season.
Disappointedly weak on the turn and quickly highlighted as a key weakness in the Liverpool lineup by opposing managers, Can was exploited relentlessly in this unnatural, and unsuitable role—yet Rodgers persisted with this.
Can’s two worst TIA ratings of the season came in this run, receiving a 4.5 for his role in the 1-0 loss away to Hull City, and a miserable 2.5 for the 6-1 final-day mauling away to Stoke City.
In his five games at right-back in 2014/15, Can was dribbled past more times per 90 minutes on average (1.8) than any other right-back in the Premier League to have made five or more appearances.
For this stretch, Can averaged a TIA rating of 5.25—a truly miserable end to the season that could have been avoided if Rodgers adopted a more sensible tactical approach. [td_ad_box spot_id=“custom_ad_3″]
Despite his season’s lowly overall average TIA rating of 6.49, Can was one of Liverpool’s best performers throughout 2014/15.
His immediate quality in switching to an unnatural centre-back role showcases his enduring ability, but the late-season move to right-back perhaps outlines that a position in defence isn’t a long-term option.
Instead, as shown against the likes of Real Madrid, Chelsea and Bolton Wanderers in the FA Cup, Can should be looking to take up a midfield role in 2015/16.
To do so, he needs to improve his strength, his consistency and his concentration.
Overall, after an extremely impressive maiden campaign, Liverpool supporters can look forward to a more dominant Can in the seasons to come.
Statistics via WhoScored.
What did you make of Emre Can’s first season at Liverpool? Let us know in the comments below.