Tottenham Can not ignore Emre in Dembele replacement hunt

Mauricio Pochettino is reportedly an admirer of the 24-year-old free agent.


REUTERS/Andrew Boyers

If Emre Can does ultimately end up at Juventus, as has been reported since late 2017, then he most certainly won’t be a stranger to bitter defeats at the hands of Real Madrid. The German replaced James Milner in the 83rd minute of Saturday’s Champions League final, with Liverpool 3-1 down to the back-to-back-to-back champions.

There’s a chance, albeit slim, however, that Can could end up joining the Reds’ domestic rivals, Tottenham. In which case, he may yet just end up on the winning side against Los Blancos.

The Guardian, last week, reported that Mauricio Pochettino is “half-thinking” about making a late attempt to prise the 24-year-old away from the Old Lady.

Can Tottenham ignore Emre in their hunt for a Mousa Dembele successor?

Dembele’s successor

The most notable difference between Can and Dembele -and perhaps why he can’t be signed as a direct replacement for the Belgian- is ball retention.

Dembele’s USP as a footballer is his press resistance; the ability to use his natural strength to shield to the ball and retain possession in the face of a pressing opponent, typically attempting to take-on said player and find space behind.

A testament to this unique ability is the fact that he completed 66 take-ons in the Premier League, at a success rate of 88%. By contrast, Can completed less than a third as many (21), successful 72% of the time.

REUTERS/Paul Childs

Dembele’s ball retention is a vital component of Pochettino’s system, with the Belgian used as a means of progressing the ball further up the pitch. Dembele’s passing accuracy, too, is something to be marvelled at, with the 30-year-old successful 92% of the time.

Given the importance afforded to Dembele in this respect, can Spurs compromise their style with a midfielder unable to retain possession as effectively?

What Can Emre offer?

Can, therefore, might not work effectively in a two-man midfield pivot alongside a defensive midfielder -namely Eric Dier or Victor Wanyama. The German’s best use comes in a three-man system, with a defensive midfielder and a more box-to-box player alongside him for balance.

This is because Can’s role is something akin to a deep-lying playmaker.

Different to Dembele, Can offers a more offensive threat in the final third. For instance, the German created 24 chances in the Premier League -eight more than Dembele- and assisted four goals. The Belgian, contrastingly, failed to register any.

Spurs need a creative presence in central midfield as, currently, too much emphasis is placed on Christian Eriksen to pull the strings from deep. With a creative threat in the centre, said burden is eased.

Can, too, is a goal-threat, something Spurs lack in their midfield. Dembele, for his brilliance, took just 11 shots in the Premier League, whilst Can attempted 26, over double. Eight of those came inside the penalty area, compared to one from the Belgian.

A two-trick pony

Perhaps Can’s most enticing attribute, however, is his all-roundedness. The 24-year-old has regularly covered Jordan Henderson at the base of Liverpool’s three-man midfield, whilst also performing a box-to-box role instead of Gini Wijnaldum.

Adept at playing as either a number six or eight, able to contribute both defensively and offensively, Can is a versatile midfielder and definitely a useful addition to Tottenham’s squad. Whilst not a direct replacement for Dembele, he could effectively support the Belgian, with other strings to his bow.

At 24, moreover, Can has potential and longevity on his side. With no money exchanging hands, if there’s any substance to this story, how could Spurs say no?

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Oli Stein

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Oli graduated from the University of Bristol with a degree in History and has worked with RealSport since September 2016.

Currently assistant football editor and Tottenham correspondent.

Follow him on Twitter: @steinoliver_

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