With Liverpool this season, their off-the-field problems seem as daunting as their on-field ones. To be fair, the on-field pressure has been relieved a bit after the string of recent wins. But the off-field issues refuse to die out. Barcelona is still chasing Philippe Coutinho, and the Catalan press is still printing speculative pieces on the Brazilian’s potential transfer in January. The defensive target in prime – Virgil van Dijk is no closer to a move to Liverpool.
Amidst these transfer sagas in the summer, one more issue got drowned out. It is resurfacing now. Emre Can and Liverpool have reached an impasse regarding the midfielder’s new contract. The apparent bone of contention was a release clause that the player wanted to include and possibly the club did not or perhaps they wanted to price it much higher. Either way, the two parties could not find common ground, and the negotiations apparently broke down last week. Now it seems certain that the German midfielder will leave on a free transfer when his current contract runs out next summer.
On a first look, it sounds like devastating news for Liverpool. The midfielder has played the bulk of the league matches in the four seasons he has been at Merseyside. He has contributed in several positions from advanced midfield and defensive midfield to left-back and centre-half. Obviously, the German is a talented player, and perhaps that’s why Liverpool want to be adequately compensated should he leave for richer clubs. But is he a Luis Suarez? Will Liverpool miss him as much? I do not think so, and here’s why.
Emre Can is Good but Not Exceptional
Emre Can is an outstanding player. He can be terrific as a tenacious no. 6 and quite effective in attacking play as well. But the fact is that he is not extraordinary. CIES Football Observatory rates him currently at 85/100, but they also rank Jordan Henderson at 83/100. They rate the two midfielders very similarly on their ability to duel, to intercept, and to pass. Where Can is better than his captain is in dribbling and shooting abilities. But, if we take a survey of the media opinions about Henderson, he will not be called irreplaceable at all. In fact, when Coutinho has been available to play in Liverpool’s midfield, he has played at the expense of both Can and Henderson.
Replacement is Already Signed Up
If the German was going to leave without having an adequate replacement signed up, it would have been disastrous for the Reds. Liverpool are finding this out the hard way in the case of their centre-backs. But, in the midfield, they have one of the best midfielders (from last season) joining their ranks next season. RB Leipzig have already agreed to sell Naby Keita to Liverpool in the summer of 2018. Keita is a similarly multi-skilled midfielder with both tenacity and flair. The Football Observatory ranks Keita at 87/100, and better than Can in duelling, interception, dribbling, and chance creation.
Liverpool’s Midfielder Rich Squad
Unlike some peers such as Chelsea, Liverpool’s squad has several midfielders capable of contributing valuably. James Milner signed for Liverpool in the hopes of playing in the midfield and in the few outings he has had this season in the middle of the park, he has excelled. Then there is Philippe Coutinho. Barcelona are chasing the Brazilian as a replacement for Iniesta. Klopp has played him a few times in the midfield this season. He clearly has the tools to excel in a midfield role. In his latest experiment, Klopp started Oxlade-Chamberlain in the midfield alongside Emre Can. Of course, Gini Wijnaldum and Henderson are out and out midfielders. Adam Lallana is waiting to get fit. Then there is Liverpool’s youth brigade of midfielders that includes Marko Grujic, Ovie Ejaria, Ben Woodburn, and Harry Wilson. While these youth players are yet to be tested in the senior games, but they have shone in the youth competitions, indicating a possibility of a successful graduation to the senior side.
Emre Can has been an excellent and versatile player for Liverpool. The Reds will definitely want to keep him – as indicated by Klopp this week. But, if the midfielder leaves next summer for free, the only significant loss they will suffer will be financial.