Emre Can is a player who has long divided opinion on Merseyside. The German international is fully expected to sign a five-year contract with Juventus next week, moving away from England on a free after running down his contract.
For this reason alone, many fans think his lack of loyalty should cost him his place.
But football is going through changing times. While no player is bigger than the club, can the club really afford to cut off its versatile nose in spite?
With the Reds short of midfield options, Can is almost assured of a place on Liverpool’s bench at a minimum. However, in what is the clubs biggest match in years, Jürgen Klopp could be well advised to consider playing Can from the start if he wants to field his strongest side.
Fit and ready
It’s over two months since Emre Can last kicked a competitive ball. A four-goal haul from Mohamed Salah claimed the headlines in Liverpool’s 5-0 defeat of Watford, however, a back injury suffered by Can just before the half-hour mark proved a bitter subtext to the game.
During the build-up to this weekend’s clash with Real Madrid, Klopp admitted that Can has proved people wrong in making a full recovery in time for selection. Citing hard work and determination to be fit, Can has since been named in Liverpool’s 24-man travelling squad.
While there’s a question over whether Can will be rusty after missing the last ten weeks, Klopp conceded that the German has passed every test and obstacle so far put in front of him.
Only the people involved in Liverpool’s training sessions will have a clear idea as to Can’s current level of sharpness. If fully fit he should be included in the 18-man squad to face Real Madrid. If he makes that squad there should be no technical reason why he can’t play from the start.
A middling conundrum
Klopp is expected by many to field the same starting eleven which played the majority of both semi final legs against Roma. This will see James Milner and Georginio Wijnaldum once again flank captain Jordan Henderson.
The injuries currently sidelining Adam Lallana and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain are without doubt a huge problem for Liverpool. As the two main sources of creativity in central midfield, Milner and Wijnaldum have largely been left to play more positively than their natural instinct dictates.
While Wijnaldum has proved a worthy successor to Can during the past two months, he has often reverted to type and played safe rather than adventurous.
Although he certainly can pick a searching pass, a high-pressure environment will be a huge test for him, something he doesn’t always pass away from home.
Belying his years
One of the strongest qualities possessed by Can is his maturity. It’s often easy to forget that he only recently turned 24.
Can is a player still hungry to improve and who should lack the composure which comes from experience. With over 250 senior appearances for club and country, he does have plenty of history to draw from but he plays with a much calmer attitude than he has any right too.
Against Brighton at the start of December, Klopp was forced to play a 3-4-3 formation with Wijnaldum and Can defending alongside Dejan Lovren. Despite Wijnaldum being brought up through Ajax’s academy which demands he can translate his skills to any position on the field, it was Can who looked the far more assured player in that defence.
With nerves likely to be tested on Saturday evening, especially Trent Alexander-Arnold at right-back, the right-sided midfielder will need such composure as much as any other characteristic.
That Can could leave Merseyside for free this summer is as much the fault of the Liverpool hierarchy than the player’s own.
Loyalty is a trait which has long been eroded from the top-end of the game and while we don’t like to see it in our own club, it’s something which is happening nonetheless.… everywhere.
Can has the ability to physically command the midfield, drive up the pitch, arrow balls through the Spanish side’s ranks and potentially add a thunderously struck goal into the bargain.
In a game that’s as simple as putting your 11 best players against those of your opponent, that’s exactly what Klopp should do this weekend.
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