Liverpool’s Emre Can following in a long line of classic German sweepers

Looking at Liverpool’s current squad, the most impressive players are arguably those that ply their trade in the final third; Daniel Sturridge, Raheem Sterling and Philippe Coutinho.

The Anfield outfit’s defence has been shrouded in question marks this season, but has been markedly improved since Brendan Rodgers opted to switch formation to a three-man centre-half set-up.

Of those employed at the back for the Merseysiders, anchoring midfielder Emre Can has been an interesting selection.

Having played the majority of his football in the centre of the park for club and age-grade national sides, moving the 21-year-old to a defensive position could have been perceived as something of a risk by Rodgers.

However, it has paid off in spades, with the former Bayer Leverkusen star excelling in Liverpool’s rearguard and developing from fringe status to a nailed-on starter in the side after six weeks of impressive showings.

Can has largely been deployed on the right-hand side of the Reds’ back three, which gives him significant defensive responsibilities and the role of marking opposition attackers.

The versatile Frankfurt-born player has dealt with this side of the game well, showcasing a battling quality forged in past midfield tussles, excellent positioning and a solid reading of the game from his new position.

Emre CanHowever, with Can good enough to play in a number of different positions, it will be very interesting to see just where the Northern Irish manager deploys the Germany under-21 man consistently in the long run.

With Steven Gerrard set to leave Anfield this summer after an 18-year tenure in the team’s midfield, Can’s growing confidence will have his manager tempted to reinstate him to his natural position.

This could well downplay the impact of Gerrard’s impending departure, with a central midfield pairing between Can and Jordan Henderson an enticing prospect.

Given that Can has been excelling on the right-hand side of Liverpool’s three-man defence, the natural instinct would surely be to continue playing him here and watch the youngster develop.

However, in the long term, playing Can in the middle of the three centre-halves and allowing him to operate as a bespoke sweeper could well turn the German from a good player into a great one.

The sweeper position has been stereotyped by a number of Can’s countrymen over the years, with the likes of Franz Beckenbauer and Matthias Sammer arguably two of the most accomplished players to fill the position in the history of the world game.

Both of these legends of German football had incredible ability to read the play, assurance in possession, the presence to orchestrate his side’s defence and a range of passing to start attacks from the back.

Although Can is not at the level of his distinguished countrymen just yet, his style of play is not dissimilar and he has all the attributes necessary to play as an effective sweeper.

Despite his stern defensive showings since moving to centre-half, arguably the most impressive aspect of Can’s game in recent weeks has been when he has moved out of Liverpool’s back line with the ball at his feet.

Having the security of leaving Martin Škrtel and Mamadou Sakho to cover for him, Can has played a part in orchestrating Liverpool’s possession from deep and would have even more of an influence if he was to switch to a sweeper role.

One way or the other Can looks set to be a star for Liverpool for years to come and surely the Anfield club’s best buy during a busy summer in the transfer window.

Maximising the impact of this impressive youngster will be one of Rodgers’ big tasks as his Liverpool side develops, but on first sight Can looks to have all the attributes to follow in the footsteps of a number of prestigious retired compatriots.

By
I am a freelance football journalist from Northern Ireland living in Broome in Western Australia. I have worked for top media outlets such as FourFourTwo, goal.com, Soccerlens, Football Fancast and Here is the City. I am a lifelong and long-suffering Tottenham fan. Follow me on Twitter at @90MinsOnline
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