Talking Tactics

How Emre Can became heart of Liverpool's midfield

By Adrian Clarke 17 Feb 2018
Brighton and Hove Albion v Liverpool - Premier League

Adrian Clarke analyses the more mature and more decisive central midfielder this season

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Tactics expert Adrian Clarke looks at five players who have impressed him from back to front this season.

Defensive midfielder - Emre Can

A number of his Liverpool team-mates have hogged the headlines through their eye-catching exploits this term, but the influence of Emre Can on Jurgen Klopp’s side should not be ignored.

The German has shown major improvement during 2017/18 and his powerful all-action game has become integral to the way Liverpool perform.

Above all else, Can’s ball-winning skills have come on immeasurably.

The defensive midfielder has won 47 tackles this season, the same number as he managed in 2016/17 but in 10 fewer appearances.

His tackle success rate is 81.03 per cent, an increase of almost 10 percentage points.

Statistically he is the most proficient tackler among central midfielders in the Premier League.

Winning 47 of 58 tackles, the only players with a higher success rate are six defenders and three forward players. 

Best tacklers 2017/18 (min 10 tackles) 
Player Posn Total Won Success
Atsu Winger 14 13 92.86%
Hoedt Centre-back 34 31 91.18%
Keane Centre-back 22 20 90.91%
Martial Forward 14 12 85.71%
Kachunga Winger 28 24 85.71%
Ward Right-back 31 26 83.87%
Gomez Right-back 50 41 82.00%
Reid Centre-back 11 9 81.82%
Kenny Right-back 37 30 81.08%
Can Central midfielder 58 47 81.03%
More mature

Liverpool are also benefitting from a more mature Can this season.

Now 24, he has learnt to channel his energy and enthusiasm in a far calmer way.

This change is reflected in the way he now restrains himself from giving away cheap fouls in bad areas.

Last season he committed an incredible 70 fouls, the second highest in the top flight behind Christian Benteke.

Too often his recklessness allowed opponents to put dangerous free-kicks into the box.

Fewer fouls

Making just 24 fouls this season, only one more than he has received, Can’s improved discipline has had a very positive effect on the Liverpool team.

No longer are they forced to defend as many needless set-pieces.

The German’s timing and decision-making has been markedly better.

Better in possession

In possession Can is also taking more care and attention.

In the past he has perhaps been guilty of holding on to the ball too long, trying too many ambitious passes, or being generally wasteful.

You cannot level those accusations at his door this season.

Dispossessed just 13 times, compared with 24 last term, and passing the ball with a 85.7% accuracy (81.5% in 2016/17) he is keeping things much simpler.

Liverpool's fulcrum

Physically strong and intelligent in the way that he presses, the tenacious Can is now Liverpool’s top ball-winner. 

During this campaign he has won the most tackles, regained possession in the middle third more than any team-mate, and he also leads the way for Liverpool for duels won and ball recoveries too.

As the best defender in Klopp’s midfield trio, Can’s role is clearly defined.

His job is to work hard, win the ball back, and give it to a colleague without fuss.

Spreading his distribution around the pitch, going sideways, backwards and forwards in fairly equal measure, he does a fine job of keeping Liverpool ticking over.

In the past Can was regarded as a handy utility player, but those days are behind him.

In a regular central midfield role that suits his strengths, there are very few more productive performers in English football’s top flight.

Also in this series

Part 1: Ederson taking the last line of defence to a new level
Part 2: Dunk showing shades of Terry in his defence
Part 4: Shaqiri can shake things up for Stoke
Part 5: Vardy showing no signs of slowing down

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