Joseph Kavaloski discusses if Shokdran Mustafi is the benchmark for top Premier League defenders and if so then Liverpool need to find someone of his calibre to replace Dejan Lovren with.
Since Jurgen Klopp became Liverpool’s manager last October, Dejan Lovren has completely changed the course of his Anfield career. The former Southampton defender was absolutely atrocious during his debut season under Brendan Rodgers and was a key culprit behind the team’s defensive frailties.
Ever since last October, Lovren has been able to regain his confidence to become a key part of the German’s starting eleven. Primarily partnered with Joel Matip, Lovren has started 14 matches in the league this season as the team’s most used centre-back.
Although it may seem as if anything Lovren can provide Liverpool is a bonus after his horrible start on Merseyside, more still needs to be expected out of the Croatian. The Reds have still not ironed out their defensive issues as the team has conceded the joint most at 20 along with Manchester City. Some of the blame needs to be placed on Lovren for these persistent problems.
The one consistent member through all of Liverpool’s defensive inconsistencies since Klopp took over has been Lovren. The Croat has ironed out a lot of the mental errors that plagued him during his debut season, but he is still prone to matches where he looks completely out of sorts (Crystal Palace earlier this year is a prime example).
In his 14 starts this year, Lovren has averaged 1.4 tackles and 1.6 interceptions with two defensive errors. In comparison, Arsenal centre-back Shkodran Mustafi has averaged 1.8 tackles and 3.1 interceptions while also having to adjust to the physicality of the Premier League after moving from Valencia this summer.
Lovren does beat Mustafi in terms of clearances per match (6 to 5.1) but his inferiority in other areas is concerning. Each defender has made 64 recoveries, but Mustafi has done so in 200 fewer minutes on the pitch. In addition, Mustafi has also won 3% more of his duels and over 2% more tackles.
One area in which Lovren does appear to be superior to Mustafi is with the ball at his feet. The former Southampton man has an excellent passing accuracy of 85.9% which is 2.5% better than that of Mustafi despite averaging 10 more passes per match. Lovren is certainly the less talented of him and Matip with the ball at his feet, but he is still very effective in this area.
Each player is the second-best centre-back in their respective teams as Laurent Koscielny is Arsenal’s number one central defender while Joel Matip leads the Reds from the back. The difference between Matip and Koscielny may be negligible but the same cannot be said for that of Lovren and Mustafi.
Mustafi has quickly emerged as one of the better centre-backs in the Premier League, but this is the standard in which Liverpool defenders need to compare themselves. If the Reds want to consistently finish in the top four and challenge in Europe for the top prizes, the defence needs to be much better.
Arsenal may be a consistent presence in the Champions League, but they have not broken through in Europe. Therefore, if Klopp wants to recreate the success he had at Dortmund, the Reds need to aim even higher than the Gunners. A team’s spine starts at the back and Arsenal’s second centre-back is clearly superior to that of the Reds.
This simply cannot be the case if Liverpool want to consistently establish themselves as a better squad than their top four rivals in North London. Arsenal is always a good team but the Reds have the ability to be consistently great thanks to their dynamic attacking group. If the defence can reach the level of Klopp’s attack, the Reds will truly be unstoppable. Unfortunately, in able to accomplish this, changes may become necessary and Lovren should be among the first players to scrutinised.