HomeOTHEREPL Index Statistical ComparisonsA statistical comparison of Kovacic and Can

A statistical comparison of Kovacic and Can

The anxiety across the red half of the city of Liverpool intensifies with the new season approaching soon. The list of fixtures for the 2015-16 was released early on Wednesday and that didn’t help soothe the anxiety of the Kop. It is tough to choose what’s worse, to begin the season away at Stoke (who crushed the reds 6-1 in the last game of the last season) or the next 6 away fixtures, which could deepen the scars of the last season.


With the departure of the legendary Steven Gerrard, Liverpool’s troubles are compounded as they now have the task of replacing him in the centre of the park. The most prominent name doing the rounds is Mateo Kovacic of Inter Milan and Croatia fame. Amidst all the speculation, Germany u21 Coach Horst Hrubesch has publicly announced that his discussion with the hierarchy at Anfield reveals that young Emre Can is expected to take over the central midfield position next season,

Would moving Emre Can into midfield prove to be a better option than signing the Croatian?  What do stats from the last two seasons reveal?

Passing and ball retention

Brendan Rodgers sets up his teams to play free flowing football and his new anchorman in the centre of the midfield will need to be tidy with his passes. Thankfully, both Kovacic and Emre Can have shown the right ability to find the right man with their passes. However, what is interesting to note is that last season, Emre Can played at the back, where tidy passing is often the norm compared to positions higher in the pitch. Rewind a year ago, and Emre was playing in the midfield at Leverkusen and his pass accuracy was average (at 78%). On the other hand, Kovacic, despite playing in the central midfield for the last two years, has been knocking at the 90% mark when it comes to pass accuracy. It would also be interesting to note that the pass type ratio for both the players is similar (both average close to 60% of their total passes as forward passes).

Attacking contribution

Kovacic notched up 5 goals last season in Serie A, with 2 of them coming from outside the box. The Croatian also created 62 chances, most of them in the centre of the park, 3 of which resulted in an assist. With 4 assists in the previous season, despite limited playing time, the youngster has shown good attacking capability, but will need to sharpen his skills to add to the numbers that belonged to Stevie season after season. The case is not very different for Can, who had a limited attacking role last season. Neither did he set the league on fire the season before when it came to being creative in the middle of the park (16 chances created). If at all, history suggests that Kovacic would provide to be a better attacking option in the middle of the park. Liverpool will rely heavily on the magical Coutinho, but the Brazilian himself is a work in progress who will need creative supplements from the players around him.


His displays at Leverkusen and Liverpool have ensured that Emre Can doesn’t chicken when he needs to tackle. He has shown great tenacity as well frequency plunging into tackles, a few of which have turned sour (Hazard penalty and red card against Arsenal to name a few obvious ones). He averages close to 2.5 successful tackles per 90 minutes at a 56% success rate. The capability extends beyond the physical realms as Can has also built a strong record in the air, winning close to 60% of his duels over the last two seasons. While Kovacic might not rake in the strong numbers notched up by Can, he has not been poor on the ground, winning tackles at regular intervals. However, he does not have a strong aerial presence, which the English game heavily relies on.

Kovacic has been renowned for his dribbling abilities and we have often seen him weave patterns around players. He likes to take his man on and beat them with skill and pace and completed more than 3 successful take-ons per 90 minutes. Despite being deployed deep, Can showed ability to pick his man and beat him with his pace and power. He might not be as smooth as Kovacic, but his brute supplements his acceleration which can make him a menace if not closed down. At Leverkusen, the season before, he was deployed centrally and averaged more than 3 successful take-ons per 90 minutes. The question will be whether Kovacic can deal with the physicality if he moves to England.

Defensively, Can has a better presence than Kovacic. He has averaged close to 2 interceptions per game compared to the Croatian’s 1, has made higher number of clearances and a higher number of blocks per 90 minutes. The solidarity he brings to the back line hasn’t gone unnoticed with critics and fans alike. However, contradictory to the claims, Can was overrun a few times by players in the league apart from committing mistakes often. We believe the youngster will come of age in the season to come, negating the remarks on his footballing CV.

On the overall, while Kovacic seems a better attacking prospect, full of energy and talent, something that has made the footballing world believe Liverpool would be better served by signing him when he might be relatively cheaper. On the other hand, it makes sense to give Can a chance in the middle of the park since he has been trained to play there and has shown enough evidence of his skill in the past. Having already expended on him, Brendan Rodger’s decision to bring in another central midfielder would reveal a huge loophole in the extensive transfer policy of the club.

However, tough decisions at tough times help establish reputations and I believe that Kovacic will add a lot more teeth to this declining Liverpool set up, not only in the form of talent on the pitch, but also in showcasing the ambitions of the club.

Aditya Upaadhyay
Aditya Upaadhyay
A masters in finance with a passion for football and an urge to work at the intersection of both.
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