CAN CAN be a defender?
One of the most interesting tactical changes Brendan Rodgers has made this season is when around early December, the manager started using Emre Can as a DEFENDER! If you know this player at all, you must have surely heard that he is a “talented midfielder”, so that’s why the change made by the Liverpool manager has been so surprising.
When Liverpool bought Can in the summer of 2014, he had been recognised as an experienced midfielder, his “natural” position! The Germans clubs in the Bundesliga he played for used him as a midfielder- he was on the pitch for strength in attack and to score goals. He played around 65 games in Germany and scored 8 goals. Not a very high scoring record, perhaps, but it still establishes him as midfielder and not a defender. He’s been called “versatile” by some who chose to use him in a defensive capacity, but if you want him to play to his best, he really needs to be in his natural position, a midfield role.
I’ve always believed in making sure a player is in their natural position, this is to try to bring the best out of the players and have them playing at peak performance in every game. You can’t do that if you’re not even very experienced at the role you’re playing.
Every player has a natural position and staying in that position ensures that they are best suited to be in that role on the pitch.
Generally, when a player is asked to play “out of position” – it’s not good for the team. They are weaker there because they’re not experienced enough at what they’re being asked to do. It takes a long time to get used to a new position. You don’t get the skills you need overnight.
The only advantage to using players out of their natural position is that the manager may be able to make some tactical changes like using players that may not have played due to other players in their positions being picked constantly. Some teams may have a player who barely ever moves out of one position on the pitch and for other squad members who play in a similar (or perhaps identical) position, it’s difficult to get into the team because they know the “regular” will not be taken out of the side for anyone else.
In the case of Liverpool, if Can was to be used as an attacking midfielder, he would be in competition for a place with the likes of Steven Gerrard, Lazar Markovic, Adam Lallana, Raheem Sterling, Jordan Henderson or Coutinho.
If even thinking of taking a defensive midfield position at our club, he would be in competition for a place with Steven Gerrard (Rodgers has used Stevie G in more than one position this season), Jordan Henderson (he’s been asked to play quite defensively before as well as his attacking role), Lucas Leiva (who seems to dominate this position, best suited of all our squad members perhaps), Alberto Moreno (usually a left back but can shift into the left or central parts of midfield to play), Jose Enrique (also a left-sided defender or midfielder), Joe Allen (one of Rodgers favourite players, whether he’s playing good or bad, he just loves to pick him) or maybe even Glen Johnson (usually a right back but has been known to push into right midfield and has even scored a goal this season).
If you’re willing to give Emre Can some time, he may yet turn out to be a decent defender, but it’s not going to happen just yet. He’s inexperienced in his new position. We (the fans) all know he’s a natural midfielder and to be honest, Rodgers probably knows it too… but we need to figure out and fully understand the reasons he’s consistently choosing to play Can this way.
#REASON NUMBER 1: With all the players I mentioned that are in competition with Can to play in midfield roles (both attacking and defensive), it’s highly unlikely that Can would be picked over the other members of the Liverpool squad to play instead of them. At the very least, they have much more experience as Liverpool player and choosing the guy who’s barely played a full season’s worth of games over them isn’t likely to happen.
#REASON NUMBER 2: Injuries and suspensions, players being unavailable. This new role for Can really first started in December – this was the time when Martin Skrtel may have been serving a suspension and around the same time Dejan Lovren had unfortunately picked up an injury. Our defense was in need of strengthening and we really only had the options to start either bringing Academy (or Reserves) players into the first team, or of moving a “versatile” player into a defensive role.
#REASON NUMBER 3: Transfers! Brendan Rodgers decided to sell Daniel Agger, one of Liverpool’s best defenders in recent years. He moved back to Brondby (the Danish club we originally bought him from) with little to no hesitation about the transfer from the Liverpool manager. And now, we have defensive issues that force us to put a natural midfielder into defense. Can has been asked to do what Agger would probably be doing if he wasn’t sold.
The fans knew it wasn’t a good idea to sell Agger but Rodgers just wasn’t willing to keep using him, especially when he thought he had other options. It wasn’t even bad performances that he was taken out of the side for. He got injured at one point last season and upon his return to full fitness he expected to be put directly back into the side… only to find that Mamadou Sakho had now “replaced” Agger. Despite the fact that Agger was once again at 100% fitness, Rodgers kept repeatedly using Sakho instead of placing Daniel right back into the defense. Not happy with being substitute or “back up” to a player that the manager favoured more than him, Agger was forced out of the club by Rodgers. It was never Agger’s choice to leave the club he loved. Agger’s body even is covered in his love for our club, with tattoos of “YNWA” that will be with him for the rest of his life. Does that sound like the actions of a player who WANTS to leave the club? Of course not.
#REASON NUMBER FOUR: favouritism! I mentioned this briefly, but Brendan Rodgers has shown on more than one occasion that he has “favourites”. There are players in the squad who our manager simply LIKES more than the rest – and not always because they’re putting in better performances for the team. Sometimes he’s picked players who were not on very good form, but he just likes them more than the rest. Some players like Mamadou Sakho and Joe Allen have some bad form in the last season or two, but still, they got picked to play in game after game, even when we had other “better” (in performance and form at least) players to choose from. It’s possible that Rodgers really likes Can a lot and that he wants to choose him based on personal preference. It doesn’t sound fair to me when other players have been playing better and yet do not get picked for the starting 11 line up over a player who has not been on as good form, but it does happen.
Can has been under large public attention quite recently for his part in the Chelsea game. Sky Sports were reporting on his performance as a defender while playing against a very successful Chelsea side who have been sitting at the top of the Premier League table for most of this season. Jamie Carragher really seemed to turn into a “critic” (instead of just being a neutral “pundit”), as he said some rather harsh words about Emre Can live on (satellite TV channel) Sky Sports:
‘He played really well in the last five or six games bringing the ball out,’ the former Liverpool defender told Sky Sports. ‘But against top-class players he’s been found wanting. He got beaten too easily and tried to rectify it and made two mistakes.
‘He found it really difficult and looked like a midfielder playing at the back. People say he’s been doing well recently in relation to bringing the ball out, but it was clumsy and a penalty, no doubt about it.’
I already spoke about this event Carragher is talking about (the penalty Chelsea won) in http://www.anfieldfamily.com/liverpool-1-1-chelsea/ and I mentioned that Eden Hazard had been diving for most of the game. If anyone doesn’t believe me, they’re welcome to watch the highlights and see the multiple times Hazard threw himself down onto the pitch when a Liverpool player got near him. Carragher is being rather harsh to focus on Can being at fault for the penalty. He’s inexperienced at being a defender, yes. That’s normal for a player who is more used to a different position and then asked to play somewhere new. If we give him enough time in his new role, he will get better and let’s not forget that his opponents were the current Premier League leaders, Chelsea – other teams won’t provide such tough attacking forces to defend against and he won’t repeatedly be having such difficult challenges. There’s no point in criticising him now when he simply hasn’t been given the time to adjust yet. Give him a chance, Carra! He’s even got your old number! (23).
If the big question is “CAN (Emre) Can be a defender?” then I honestly believe the answer is “YES CAN CAN!” He just needs time.
[written by] Stuart Drewery.
I’m an Englishman (born and raised in Liverpool in the 80s). My whole family including my parents and grandparents were Liverpool fans so I was born into being a red.
I’ve seen Liverpool win the league (about 25 years ago) and I’ve been 100% loyal and committed while supporting the Reds through all the good times AND the bad times since the 80s.
I’m a die hard Liverpool fan (only supported ONE club in my whole life, Liverpool) and one of the most dedicated fans you’ll ever meet.