Kovacic, Kondogbia… Liverpool’s ideal Gerrard replacement in line

We’ll wager that many Liverpool fans have no idea who Horst Hrubesch is, but he may have dropped the biggest piece of news of the club’s summer. ‘What has he said?’ we hear you cry, well the Germany U-21 manager has revealed that Emre Can is viewed as the successor to Steven Gerrard on Merseyside:

“I’ve just been to Liverpool, there we were told that Emre will soon assume Gerrard’s role in midfield.” He said.

“Emre definitely has leadership qualities.”

A pretty big development, especially as reports have claimed that players such as Mateo Kovacic and Geoffrey Kondogbia are being ‘lined up to replace Gerrard’, who is heading off to California in search of sun and soccer – in which order, we’ll let you decide. It may be a gamble to see the 21-year-old being handed the responsibility of filling the boots of one of the club’s most iconic players of all time, but there are many reasons to suggest that it’s a wise decision… and here are FIVE.

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Central midfield is actually his position…

Upon his arrival last summer Can was hailed as a powerful, promising and industrious central midfielder. The opening months of his Anfield career were filled with brief cameos – a deflected goal in the home loss to Chelsea was a highlight – but he really came to the fore as part of Brendan Rodgers’ back-three set-up brought in at Christmas to turn things around. Although playing as a defender, Can was still as much a midfielder as an enforcer, with his role designed around carrying the ball forward and building attacks from deep – something that later led to time at right-back.

It’s been pretty clear all along that his ultimate destination will be in the engine room of the Reds’ team, but with Gerrard having been present it would have been a political hot potato to push in a relatively unproven youngster ahead of ‘Mr Liverpool’ in the final months of his Merseyside career.

Can vs Gerrard

Looking at Can’s numbers from his Bayer Leverkusen 2013/14 campaign (in which he was often used in his favoured position) his contributions are not dissimilar to those of Gerrard last term, with his defensive work superior. While goals and chance creation are lower from the German, he wins more of his duels, is more effective when tackling and his greater mobility is evident through a vast gulf in the number of intercepts per-game.

Physicality

Despite being just 21, Can has the build and stature of a man at his absolute physical prime. The German stands at just over 6ft. and matches his height with broad shoulders and a solid frame. Although the stereotype of English football being more about brute than brains is a little lazy, there’s no denying that Premier League football demands more physicality than some other divisions, and the former Bayern Munich trainee seems suited.

Further to that an ‘apprenticeship’ as a centre-back playing against tough strikers such as Romelu Lukaku and Christian Benteke will only serve to heighten his awareness of the battles that take place.

Can score goals…

Although not a prolific scorer of goals, the midfielder can (excuse the pun) put the ball in the back of the net when he breaks into the final third. The above strike came last night for German’s U-21 side against Serbia in the European Championships, and illustrated his power, technique and hunger.

He netted once last term in the league for Liverpool and three times during his breakthrough at Bayer Leverkusen, so he does have form, especially for a defensive-minded player.

Won’t cost a penny

Can

One for FSG’s moneymen, unlike other options out there, Can will not cost a penny. With James Milner also in and Jordan Henderson now a proven Premier League player, the Reds have a solid midfield base to work with, with additions only needed to further supplement the ranks – although with Lucas Leiva, Philippe Coutinho, Joe Allen and Adam Lallana all able to play centrally, there may be little need.

Keeping funds free could allow the club to chase more pressing concerns, such as the need for a top-class striker, a potential Raheem Sterling replacement and an authoritative centre-back.

Long-term answer

At 21, Can is very much at the start of his career. The Germany U-21 international has at the very least another 10-13 years of top level action ahead of him, and although it would be naïve to suggest that he’ll be a Red forever, Liverpool can realistically expect him to be around for the long-term. A more experienced player could be signed, but age brings no guarantees.