Emre Can's return is a boost for Liverpool, but where will he play?
Emre Can's return to fitness is a timely boost for Liverpool ahead of Friday's trip to Chelsea, but there are no guarantees the powerful young midfielder will walk straight back into the team.
Can is an important player for the Reds due to the physicality he brings in front of the defence, and he's been a favourite of Jurgen Klopp's since the German took over from Brendan Rodgers 11 months ago. Had Can been fit to start the season, there's every chance he would have been first choice but a disrupted pre-season meant he was only fit enough for the bench when Liverpool opened up the new campaign with a thrilling 4-3 win at Arsenal.
Klopp has since fielded the same midfield trio in every Premier League fixture so far and aside from a disappointing showing at Burnley, the unit has worked surprisingly well together. Can's only start came in the 5-0 win at Burton Albion in the EFL Cup, a game he failed to finish after aggravating an old ankle injury.
In his absence others have seized their opportunity. While Can is certainly a more natural fit for the holding position than Jordan Henderson, the captain's improved form in recent weeks, coupled with the effectiveness of the midfield unit as a whole, means there is no desperate need to hand Can an immediate recall to the team. Klopp might be sorely tempted though, particularly with such a difficult looking fixture coming up.
For Can to come back, someone else must make way and that's where it becomes difficult. Henderson may have been hugely disappointing in the loss at Burnley but he has bounced back well since and was excellent during Saturday's demolition of Leicester City at Anfield. His place in the team looks assured for now, although his role in it may change if Can is recalled.
Adam Lallana's place appears to be under no immediate threat either, as he is now one of the first names on Klopp's team sheet. Lallana has made a seamless transition to a deeper role this season and -- Sadio Mané apart -- has been Liverpool's best player so far. It seems ridiculous now but not so long ago, Lallana had a reputation for running out of steam and he was frequently substituted before the end of games. Indeed, when he faced his former club Southampton last season, he was taunted throughout with chants of "You never play 90 minutes."
It's an accusation that irked Lallana, who always maintained that his stamina was not an issue. He's proved that beyond all question since Klopp arrived, not least during Saturday's 4-1 win over Leicester when he covered a whopping 13.1km, which is the most by any Premier League player so far this season. The previous high mark was 12.5km, also set by Lallana against Spurs two weeks earlier. He also scored a terrific goal on Saturday, and despite the move to a deeper position his goal output seems to have increased. He's got two in four PL games for Liverpool (he managed only four in 30 last year) and recently netted his first international goal for England too.
Many supporters understandably questioned Klopp's decision to convert Lallana from a wide attacker into a box to box midfield role this summer but few are doubting the move now given the way he has started the season. So if and when Can does get back in it surely won't be at the expense of either Henderson or Lallana, so that just leaves Georginio Wijnaldum.
The Dutchman has been the least influential of Liverpool's midfield three this season but he was quietly impressive against Leicester and showed signs of growing into his new role. Wijnaldum is versatile but like Lallana, he is more accustomed to playing further forward. Klopp's bold change of formation this year to a 4-3-3 packed with attacking players has led to the Dutchman playing on the left of the midfield trio and on occasion he's looked a little lost. It's not that he's been noticeably poor but there have been times where he has been fairly anonymous and a little unsure of his role.
The Leicester game provided a good indication of Klopp's vision for this team, however, as Liverpool simply ran all over Claudio Ranieri's side. They were attacking from all angles and flooding the penalty area with players. Lallana and Wijnaldum are crucial to that; both are attack-minded and both will run all day. The only question is whether Klopp wants to use that approach in every game or if he will adopt a more "horses for courses" outlook. The latter looks to be Can's best hope of a recall.
It would be somewhat harsh leaving anybody out after such a good display against Leicester, but Chelsea at Stamford Bridge presents a different type of challenge and Klopp might therefore look to solidify things a little. The last thing you want is a rejuvenated Eden Hazard having space to pick the ball up and run at the back four; as a result, Can's return to fitness has come at a good time and gives Klopp options to be flexible should he feel the need.
Dave Usher is one of ESPN FC's Liverpool bloggers. Follow him on Twitter: @theliverpoolway.