Dejan Lovren did not have the easiest of starts to his Liverpool career. At £20 million, the Croatian’s transfer from Southampton made him the most expensive centre back in the club’s history, a tag that carried a huge weight of expectation. Brendan Rodgers was positive Lovren would become a modern day Alan Hansen, leading and organising the defence robustly, but adding class and technique on the ball. Things soon turned sour, however, and Lovren became the perfect metaphor for the rapid decline of Liverpool, Rodgers and the infamous transfer committee at Anfield.
It is true that Lovren had a poor first season at Anfield, but much of the criticism aimed at him was largely overblown. With the hefty transfer fee hanging over his head, the ex-Lyon defender struggled to settle into his new surroundings, especially with Brendan Rodgers desperately chopping and changing the team in a bid to arrest the rapid decline of a side that had come within a whisker of the Premier League title just months before. With all of the upheaval and tension at Anfield, Lovren never properly settled and his form and confidence suffered as a result.
The most damning statistic against the Croatian was the number of individual errors he was making. Despite only playing in 22 league matches, Lovren topped the standings for errors leading to chances in 2014/15 with seven mistakes. This massive error count was due to Lovren’s loss in confidence, and it is hard to defend his season based on the statistics.
However, in other important factors of his play, the centre back still showed some of the promise that convinced Liverpool to pay so much money for him. For example, he was rarely caught out of position, with his natural defensive instincts quietly preventing chances on numerous occasions. Lovren had not become a bad defender just by moving from Southampton to Liverpool; he was merely having an error ridden season.
Now, under the tutelage of Jurgen Klopp, Lovren is finally beginning to look like a very good centre back again. Brought in from the cold after a knee injury to the impressive Mamadou Sakho, Lovren has looked assured, confident and has suddenly turned into the rock at the heart of a pretty solid Liverpool defence. He was magnificent in Liverpool’s 4-1 thrashing of Manchester City, their 1-0 win over Swansea and their 6-1 annihilation of Southampton in the League Cup. It may only be a few good games after a long run of poor performances, but Lovren is finally starting to show just how good a player he could be for Liverpool.
Much of the reason behind the ridicule of Lovren since his arrival at Liverpool has been thanks to his defensive style, which is the polar opposite to regular partner Martin Skrtel at the back. Skrtel is known as a fierce customer, willing to put his body on the line for a block or a tackle, whereas Lovren is rarely seen in the same manner, which has hindered the Croatian’s image.
These characteristic certainly endears Skrtel to the fans, but from a defensive perspective highlights his vulnerabilities. The reason the Slovakian makes so many blocks and tackles is because he is often caught out of position when defending in vital moments. He defends with passion and bravery, but in terms of defensive intelligence, which is all about the more subtle jobs of interceptions and good clearances; Skrtel is nowhere near the quality of Lovren or Sakho.
However, because the good work Lovren does is usually thanks to positioning and intelligent defending, he is rarely praised for his excellent defending, whereas mistakes on the ball are easily preyed upon. Mamadou Sakho is in a similar position. His languid and awkward style masks the fact that he is a phenomenally strong and intelligent defender. Together, with adequate protection from the likes of Emre Can and Lucas ahead of them, Sakho and Lovren could form a formidable partnership, something which they were never allowed to do under Rodgers.
In conclusion, Dejan Lovren deserves a lot of praise for the way he has started to turn his Liverpool career around. After 15 months of mistakes and ridicule, he is finally starting to demonstrate why the Reds were convinced to invest such a large amount of money in him last summer. By cutting out his individual errors, Lovren has made Liverpool look a much more solid outfit. It has been a rocky journey, but Lovren may just be starting to blossom into the quality centre back that he showed he had the potential to become at Southampton; and for that, he deserves a lot of credit.
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