Opinion: Has Liverpool midfielder Emre Can turned his form around?

As Liverpool's Emre Can received possession and pushed the ball towards the penalty area there appeared to be only one thought in his mind. He strode towards the ball and guided a low drive into the bottom corner of the net beyond the reach of Tom Heaton.

As he raced away towards the corner flag for his knee slide and nod, the winning goal was a perfect way to answer the critics, of which there have been many, who have been on his back since the turn of the year as the German, and Liverpool, suffered a huge slump in form.

The goal and result was a massive boost to the no.23 and Liverpool as they edged past a resilient Burnley, 2-1, to keep their hopes of a top four finish alive. How important the goal will be in the context of the season is yet to be seen but it could turn out to one of those vital moments fans will look back on.

Can has stepped it up in recent games

Since Jordan Henderson was ruled out with a severely bruised foot before the home game against Arsenal in February, there were fears that Liverpool could struggle without their captain as the England international had been a key component to Liverpool’s early season success.

Performances at the anchor of Liverpool’s midfield three when Henderson has been absent during the campaign has meant Can has slotted into that role and it has had varied success. However, since the most recent injury to Liverpool’s captain, Can has been much improved against both Arsenal and Burnley.

Jürgen Klopp noted against Burnley that the midfielder appeared to continuously drop deep, between the central defenders to receive the ball and get Liverpool moving forward. It’s been arguably the largest criticism of Can that everything he does goes backwards. He doesn’t get Liverpool moving on the front foot and he is too slow in possession.

The former Bayer Leverkusen man himself has admitted he has had a poor run of form when he spoke earlier this month but attributed his problems, to back up Klopp’s claims, that he played through niggling injuries - affecting his ability to perform on the pitch.

Fans have voiced their opinions that Can and Henderson can’t play together in the middle of the park. It worked earlier in the season when Can came back into the side and scored against Crystal Palace, Watford, and Bournemouth but his perceived ‘negative’ playing style has been a major part of his struggles.

Against Arsenal and Burnley however, he was much better in the deeper central position as he used his strength to win battles both on the ground and in the air against the likes of Olivier Giroud and break up the opposition's momentum, his blatant attempt to hack down Alexis Sanchez springs to mind.

He also used the ball much more effectively. He appeared much more willing to move the ball forward and advanced Liverpool up the pitch as well as finding himself in more prominent attacking positions allowing him to get opportunities like his goal against Burnley.

He has looked fresher and more mobile (Leicester aside) this month. His initial thought has changed to looking forward and he appears to be much more assured and careful in possession.

The 23-year-old, who received a call up to the German national squad for the upcoming international break, now needs to show consistent form as Liverpool wait for Henderson to return to full fitness.

When fully fit Can has been the man to drop to the bench and the challenge for him now is to continue his recent form and be the focal point of Liverpool's midfield.

The contract situation

Contract talks stalling have not helped the situation with Can yet to commit his long-term future to the club.

Whether it was ironic that after the game he scored the important winning goal in, that he said he wants to stay and money wasn’t an issue is one thing, but it is one issue that needs to be sorted to eliminate a summer of unnecessary speculation about the German’s future.

Klopp has admitted the talks are ongoing and when questioned on Can’s poor form he was quick to defend the player citing that the 23-year-old has struggled with injuries since the turn of the year. With Liverpool’s squad so stretched in recent months Klopp would have had no option but to select the player.

Ahead of Liverpool’s huge game on Sunday against Manchester City, Klopp told reporters that “good talks” are ongoing between the club and the player. With just one year left to run on his current contract the German’s future must be sorted soon.

It’s an important end to the season for Can because he will be hoping to prove to both Klopp and the fans that he is capable of being an important part of Liverpool’s future. He has bounced back from his Leicester performance with two quality displays against Arsenal and Burnley but Manchester City and their attacking talent will prove another mammoth test.

Can has proven during his time at Liverpool, especially at the end of last season, that he has the quality to succeed on Merseyside because he has all the attributes to become a top player.

With injuries and poor form hopefully now behind him it’s an enormous chance for Can to continue to impress.