With Emre Can called up to the Germany squad for the Confederations Cup, Liverpool will need to plan ahead with summer midfield reinforcements.
Can was named in Joachim Low’s 23-man squad for the tournament in Russia, as Germany look to build on their World Cup triumph from 2014.
Their first Group B clash against Australia kicks off on June 19, before taking on Chile (June 22) and Cameroon (June 25), with Group A comprised of New Zealand, Portugal, Mexico and the hosts.
Owing to injuries and busy campaigns, a host of key names were left out of Low’s selection—including Mats Hummels and Jerome Boateng—but Can was joined by the likes of Joshua Kimmich, Julian Brandt and Timo Werner in highlighting the depth at Germany’s disposal.
For Can, his inclusion is an indicator of his continued worth to Low, with the Reds midfielder following an upward trajectory since leaving Bayer Leverkusen in 2014.
This will be the third consecutive summer Can has represented Germany at a major international tournament, after the European U21 Championship in the Czech Republic in 2015 and the European Championship in France in 2016.
Moving from the U21s to an increasingly prominent role for the senior squad, Can is growing in importance for Germany and, so far, not missing a beat.
The same can be said for Can at club level, with Liverpool’s No. 23 continually progressing, from his first season under Brendan Rodgers in 2014/15 to his blossoming under Jurgen Klopp.
It can certainly be argued, however, that Can has become a victim of his accelerated development: he’s actually meeting expectations for club and country, with few discernible speed bumps.
He’s waltzed through the age groups for Germany, and risen from utility man to key figure on Merseyside. However, this—and the timing of Germany’s success—has ensured a busier schedule for Can than most young players.
He’s set to close his fourth full season of first-team football in Sunday’s clash with Middlesbrough, and has already made 56 appearances at various levels for Germany.
And, crucially, this has not slowed since he left Leverkusen, which has had an impact at Liverpool.
In both summers after his first season with the Reds, Can has played competitive international football, and both pre-seasons, he has therefore returned late.
In 2015, he was left out of the squad for the tour of the Far East and Australia, making his first appearance of pre-season on August 2, seven days before the season opener at Stoke City.
And ahead of 2016/17, Can missed the Reds’ first six pre-season friendlies, returning midway through the tour of the United States, and again his first outing was on August 2, 12 days before the campaign started away Arsenal.
Unsurprisingly, in the past two seasons, Can has started slow as he battled injury, regained his fitness and settled back into an ever-changing system, before peaking in the second half of the campaign.
Despite this, he has still played more than most: in 2015/16, Nathaniel Clyne (4,661) was the only outfielder to play more minutes than Can (4,215), and this term, he has been the sixth-busiest (2,720).
This summer threatens the same for the 23-year-old at the the Confederations Cup, and given the calibre of opposition, Germany can expect to reach the final on July 2.
While this is earlier than Can’s commitments ended at the Euros in 2016 (July 7), it is later than at the U21 Euros in 2015 (June 27), and he will no doubt be granted further time off by Klopp.
Liverpool’s pre-season preparations begin at the start of July, likely kicking off with a host of domestic friendlies before a trip to Hong Kong and Shanghai for the Premier League Asia Trophy.
Despite a lack of European football this season, Klopp’s midfield options have been stretched, with Can (39), Georginio Wijnaldum (41), Adam Lallana (34) and Jordan Henderson (27) the only players to make more than 20 appearances in the middle of the park.
With Lallana, Henderson, Marko Grujic and Ovie Ejaria all suffering with injuries, Lucas Leiva preferred at centre-back and Kevin Stewart overlooked, this has led to Can playing through pain.
“The first seven, eight months were very difficult for me because I always dragged the calf injury,” he explained earlier in May.
“It was only in the last four or five games that I was able to play free.”
Now, with Liverpool in the driver’s seat to secure a place in next season’s Champions League, the importance of depth throughout Klopp’s squad is magnified.
While Can’s problems could be navigated in-house with more luck, Ejaria has already departed for South Korea for the U20 World Cup with England, and Grujic is likely to join Serbia at the U21 Euros in Poland.
Liverpool are already targeting a new central midfielder, with RB Leipzig’s Naby Keita the prime target and Arsenal‘s Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain reportedly tempted by the role at Anfield, but fighting on four fronts next term, Klopp may need more.
Taking a broader view, with the World Cup to come in 2018 and Can no doubt involved for Germany, this would address a long-term problem for the Reds.
For Can, international recognition should not be considered a problem: his progress has been remarkable, and he should remain a cornerstone of Klopp’s squad, with a new, improved contract.
But, put simply, Liverpool cannot afford overburdening the German after another busy summer and another late return.