Jack Hallows discusses Dejan Lovren, the arrival of Virgil van Dijk and the future of Liverpool Football Club’s defence.
There are a number of ‘controversial’ figures at Liverpool Football Club these days.
There are the divisive ones – Jordan Henderson divides opinion like no footballer I’ve ever seen before while Emre Can is either tweeted about as a headless bull in a China shop or a genuine world beater.
There are the bizarrely disliked ones – Nathaniel Clyne is probably the best right back that Liverpool have had in recent times, yet a large percentage of the fanbase targeted him for criticism last season.
Last but not least, there are those who the fanbase unanimously agree probably shouldn’t actually still be there – Simon Mignolet is, of course, the main name that comes to mind while Jon Flanagan and Lazar Markovic are also up there.
Dejan Lovren is unfortunate in that he probably falls into all of these categories at times.
The Croatian endured a nightmare start to life on Merseyside, struggling under Brendan Rodgers after becoming – at the time – the club’s record defensive signing in 2014 and it’s testament to how poor he was that the likes of Kolo Toure and Martin Skrtel were preferred to the former Southampton man. Emre Can was even fielded at centre back in a back three ahead of him!
In 2015, the arrival of Jürgen Klopp brought about a welcome change in Lovren’s game.
When fit, he was generally fielded alongside Mamadou Sakho as a right-sided centre half and with the Frenchman being a proactive defender, capable of breaking the line and passing the ball forward at every opportunity, Lovren was tasked with keeping his game simple. I even wrote a short piece about the improvement this brought about on my first ever Liverpool blog!
Fast forward to today and while the former Southampton man is still a figure who rouses plenty of debate, he’s pushing for a place alongside another former Saint: Virgil van Dijk.
So, can Lovren – who admittedly, looked finished at Liverpool after the 4-1 mauling at Wembley back in the Autumn – salvage his Reds career alongside van Dijk?
Yes: The argument
As I mentioned previously, Lovren played some of his best football when fielded alongside Mamadou Sakho. The Frenchman caused all sorts of unrest off the pitch but on it, he was vocal, proactive, positive and surprisingly composed when on the ball.
This allowed Lovren the chance to focus on doing what he’s good at: winning aerial duels, putting in big blocks and relieving pressure momentarily by making solid clearances.
With this explanation, a van Dijk/Lovren partnership could form a very similar dynamic to that of a Sakho/Lovren partnership – albeit with a far better left-sided centre half.
The Dutchman is the most vocal defender I’ve seen in the modern game, has a head that functions as a ball magnet, possesses ridiculous recovery pace, has incredible distribution ability and most importantly: he is a brilliant defender, both one-on-one and in team situations.
His all-round game is so complete and so impressive that it’s allowing Lovren to simplify his game once again and we saw enough of this against FC Porto for this argument to stand.
Virgil took most of the plaudits for having one of the most successful Champions League debuts of any defender to have represented the club and really, who can blame the pundits? The Dutchman was imperious, winning both his aerial duels, completing both his take ons, performing nine defensive actions and winning three out of five tackles.
However, Lovren’s performance has gone under the radar and was for the most part, equally as impressive. The Croatian bailed out his partner during the opening twenty minutes, throwing himself into an important block to turn a shot that Karius stood no chance of getting to over the bar and keep the score 0-0. We scored five minutes later.
The balance that occurs – at least on paper – when Liverpool field a back five that features Karius, Lovren and van Dijk gives Klopp a lot to think about and in all honesty, it could be a partnership that we see a lot more towards the final stages of this season.
No: The argument
This issue with the argument for yes is that Dejan Lovren securing his future at Liverpool Football Club seems to rely heavily on Virgil van Dijk.
The Croatian has found a nice patch of form over the last three months to be fair and much of that has come playing alongside Joel Matip and Ragnar Klavan, that said, however, we’ve seen what happens when he does lose his head.
The Reds actually haven’t lost a Premier League game that the Croatian has featured in since his meltdown at Wembley but that game alone shows the vulnerabilities still existing in Lovren’s game.
He’s often times too eager to impress – especially against the better strikers in the league – and while Klopp applauds how much he backs himself and his levels of self-confidence, it can lead to him being rash, over-complicate situations and make defensive errors at key moments.
Of course, a lot of this may come from playing alongside a timid figure such as Matip whose communication lacks horribly and ahead of a goalkeeper who’s even worse in Simon Mignolet but the fact that four years into his Liverpool career, Lovren still has these nightmare games in him is worrying, to say the least.
Even if his consistency does improve and he does continue to get better alongside van Dijk, there will still always be a nervous reaction around Anfield and potentially even from his own teammates every time he takes a loose touch, misjudges the flight of an aerial ball or makes a poor pass.
With van Dijk’s level being far superior to that of his defensive teammates, Lovren could also become a target for quick opposition forwards such as Alexis Sanchez, Eden Hazard, Aubameyang and Sergio Aguero when Liverpool come up against the top six clubs.
Against players of that quality, it doesn’t matter who’s playing next to you, you have to be able to keep a cool head and remain focused for an entire 90 minutes. Does Lovren have that ability? I’m not so sure.
What do you think, can Dejan Lovren still play a big role for Liverpool Football Club beyond this season? Or should the club be looking elsewhere?