In their draw against Chelsea on Tuesday, Liverpool produced a performance reminiscent of last year's title-challenging team, with only the heroics of Thibaut Courtois keeping things all square. Emre Can was praised throughout the match for his part in Liverpool's dominance, displaying a top-notch technical ability in central defense and helping his side build out from the back.
Chelsea finished the game with one shot on target. That shot was, of course, the goal, scored by Eden Hazard from the penalty spot. The spot kick prevented Liverpool from keeping a clean sheet, in a two-legged tie in which away goals could well affect who progresses. And the man who gave away that penalty? Can, in his only real mistake of the game.
Is that really his fault? Can is a very good central midfielder, has been for his whole career, but he has never been a central defender. Brendan Rodgers plays him there because he wants to play with a back three. Dejan Lovren proved himself to be an expensive embarrassment, so it's Can who gets slotted in -- a non-defender who provides fewer blushes than Liverpool's unwise investment.
Except, of course, when Can is made to look foolish by world-class players like Hazard. But it's a tradeoff, one that Brendan Rodgers has created for himself. Mamadou Sakho sat on the bench behind Lovren for months. Daniel Agger was sold so Lovren could be purchased.
Then there's Brad Jones, barely of Championship standard, starting over Simon Mignolet. Steven Gerrard, a good attacking midfielder, has played a lot of holding midfield and Jordan Henderson, a good box-to-box midfielder, has spent good chunks of the season on the wing or at wingback.
It's not that Rodgers is a bad manager, or there's no way to justify his decisions. He's just weird. All of those decisions are really weird. They're not the decisions that the other 19 managers in the Premier League would make, and his weirdness hasn't led to some sort of crazy revelation that Henderson and Can are actually the greatest defenders of their generation and Rodgers is an evil genius. His decisions just keep looking more bizarre.
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No one hates weird football, but weird football becomes great when it occurs as a result of an absence of world-class players, a problem that Rodgers does not currently enjoy. He has plenty of top players, yet he chooses to deploy them in a way that doesn't make any damn sense, and the result isn't even great eight-goal games. All that happens is his team gets poor results in games they would have won, had he not been such a total screwball.
Brendan, we know you're not reading this, but a request nonetheless. Just play Can in midfield, dude. What do you have against playing players where they're supposed to play? He's a really good midfielder, and so is Henderson. They're both better than Gerrard, who is better than them at playing higher up the pitch.
And -- this may be too much to ask -- also play actual defenders, preferably ones who are not bad. Thanks!