The Curious Case of Dejan Lovren
Assessing where the likable Croatian stands this season.
There are fewer divisive defenders to represent the club than Dejan Lovren.
Restored to the starting XI against Cardiff at the weekend, Lovren put in a wobbly display. A couple of times he put his colleagues under pressure with sloppy passes and he lost his man for Cardiff’s goal.
They may appear like minor issues in an otherwise comfortable romp at Anfield, but the bigger picture and end goal must always be in mind. With so much riding on this season, the club cannot afford experienced first team players switching off.
It was an unwelcome reminder of some of his old bad habits on Saturday and we’ll not get away with it against better opponents.
In this campaign more than any other, Lovren is under the spotlight and will have to fight harder than ever for his place. His Liverpool career has certainly had it’s ups and downs and the hope was that we’d, at long last, gotten the best out of him. It’s now down to Lovren to recapture that form of 2018, and it could prove to be vital to our lofty ambitions, that he does.
Its just over a year ago, that Lovren suffered his nadir. Subbed before half time as Liverpool capitulated to Spurs at Wembley. He was responsible for the opening two goals that day and it he lost his head in the midst of the chaos he caused.
Klopp’s decision that day was more mercy, than abject humiliation for the Croatian. It looked bleak for him from there on in though. The club used that defeat by Spurs to draw a line under their shambolic defending.
A few weeks later, Van Dijk arrived in a world record fee for a defender, and the writing looked to be on the wall for Lovren.
CV of errors
If Klopp jettisoned the Croatian there and then, there’d have been little dissent from the fans. Lovren had shown flashes of quality, amidst some real horror show moments.
The most worrying aspect of Lovren’s game by far, are his concentration levels. It was clear he could put a tackle in, was competent in the air and he was a strong presence at the back, when he put his mind to it.
Too often though the switch offs would come. He’d often stall on the pitch and become an outright liability. Amount many, he endured a nightmare outing at Anfield against West Ham in August 2015, gifting them a goal from the edge of his own area and proving that when it went bad for him, it went nuclear.
It was this CV of errors then, that caused so many to wish for his immediate departure after Van Dijk’s arrival.
It didn’t work out in that way though, they seldom do in football. As many predicted his imminent transfer away from the club, Lovren got his head down and set about winning his place back.
Recovering from his humiliation at Spurs and benefiting from Joel Matip’s injury problems, the Croatian international won his place back. He stayed in the team on merit and benefited from Van Dijk’s prescience at the heart of defence.
He was in his best form for the club during the second half of 2017/18. Looking more calm and assertive, he helped Liverpool secure another top four place and contributed to an unforgettable run through to the Champions League Final. His performance in Kiev is up there with his best in the Red shirt. Many of us looked on astonished and pleasantly surprised.
Those performances alongside Van Dijk and with Andy Robertson installed at left back, also suggested that he could perform well in a more stable and competent back four unit. Even his most ardent critics should admit, he hadn’t previously had the luxury of in this in his Liverpool career until 2018.
Lovren’s form was at such a level, that his early season abdominal injury was a real blow to the club.
He’d played a lot of football, having helped Croatia to a World Cup final in the summer. The injury was more wear and tear, but it’s taken something away from his previously splendid form.
The bar is now raised at the club though and we can ill afford mistakes at the back if we’re to challenge City. Lovren is in a fight for his position with Joe Gomez and Joel Matip, and must recapture his best form as soon as possible.
Klopp likes him. Many managers would have railroaded him for his errors, but the German chose to work with Lovren and nurtured the talent he possesses.
There can be no doubt though, that the pressure and expectation is on another plain this season. Gomez and Van Dijk are, as yet, unruffled by it. Lovren must draw from his experience if he’s to etch his name back into the first team and not let this expectation unsettle him.
He’s shown immense character throughout his Reds career to fight back, endearing himself to his manager. Plus he’s clear a popular guy in the dressing room.
If he can get back to his best, Liverpool have a solid, tough tackling and committed centre-half. The hope will be, that he can shake off the rustiness and kick on from he left off in May. The spot light is on him though and its essential he shows the fans that it was the real Dejan Lovren they saw this year.