I like my opinion pieces to have a title based around a song, but I struggled with this one, in the end plumping for a slight variation of the iconic McDonalds tagline “I’m lovin’ it.” As you’ve probably guessed, this article is all about Liverpool’s number six, Dejan Lovren. There’s been plenty of talk about how Klopp has turned around the careers of Adam Lallana, James Milner, Divock Origi, Emre Can, Roberto Firmino, but I wanted to focus on someone who really was at the lowest point possible when Klopp found him.
It’s hard to believe what has happened in the last twelve months of Lovren’s career. Following an abysmal debut campaign which saw the Croatian become the butt of all jokes around Anfield, Lovren came into last season as the one player every reds fan wanted to see out of the starting eleven, just like Moreno is now. It’s a year since he put in a dreadful performance at Old Trafford, which appeared to be the final nail in his coffin at the time. Just a week before, he stunned Anfield with some of the worst defending I’ve ever seen in a 3-0 defeat to West Ham, a game which I believe was the end of Rodgers’ tenure in charge – I genuinely think that had we won that game, we would have had a decent season and Rodgers would still be manager. Eventually Brendan grew a pair and dropped Lovren, replacing him with the then loved Mamadou Sakho (oh, how things change.) Rodgers was replaced in early October with Jurgen Klopp, and the German gradually began to restore Lovren to first team action by playing cup games and making sub appearances in the league, before the new manager trusted him enough to bring him into the regular starting eleven.
The ex-Southampton player’s upturn in form wasn’t noticeable at first, mainly because he was putting in solid performances, rather than exceptional ones. We saw consistent 6/10s from Lovren, displays where he would go under the radar as he quietly and safely went about his business. This is all we wanted from our centre back. Someone who we could rely on, someone who didn’t try to overplay and someone who could be a solid presence at the back. It wasn’t until Christmas time that everyone started to realise how well he was playing. He had covered Sakho, Skrtel and Toure as his fellow centre backs battled injury. His good form continued into the new year, putting in sound defensive performances and beginning to repair some of the damage from the previous year to the point that most Liverpool fans were gutted when the Croat picked up an injury in the League Cup win against Stoke. Upon his return he picked up where he left off, with more noticeable defensive performances taking place. I remember his all-round display against Crystal Palace in the 2-1 win in March was one of the best individual performances I’ve ever seen from a Liverpool centre back. Despite being a centre half, his most memorable moment of 2015/16 wasn’t anything defensive (though it is a good job he improved on aerial duels so much!) Yes, I am of course talking about the last minute winner against Dortmund in the quarter final. That was the moment that Lovren won over every Liverpool fan, and someone who was despised by most not long ago became the centre of love and adulation from the Kop. No matter what he does for the rest of his Liverpool career, he will always be able to say that he gave us an iconic Anfield moment.
Lovren has become the first choice centre back at Liverpool this season. I thought we’d see Lovren/Sakho as the partnership this season, but Sakho hasn’t been involved due to injury/arriving late for a meal/posting on Snapchat/being on the magic. The one good thing about Sakho’s exile from the team is that it has allowed Lovren to play as the left sided centre back for us, where he is definitely more comfortable, despite not being left footed. He has formed an excellent partnership with Joel Matip already. They are on the same wavelength and while they have a lot of similar qualities, they compliment each other well to the extent that if you merged the two, you’d have a pretty complete centre back. What I really love to see is the way that Lovren has become the leader of each defensive partnership he’s been involved in. Along with Milner, Henderson and Can, Lovren is one of the few members of our squad who you would say has real leadership qualities. I like to see that in a centre half.
I feel like I’ve been quite general and narrative based in this article so far, so let’s take a look at some of Lovren’s attributes and where it’s all gone right for him. His physical presence and success in the combative nature of tackles has improved massively since Klopp’s arrival. A lot of this is probably down to confidence, but he looks like a rock and attackers struggle to get past him now. His reading of the game is among the best in our squad, right up there with Clyne, Milner and Firmino. What really impresses me about his reading of the game is his decision making. For so long in his debut campaign we saw him trying to overplay and not being natural, which at times put us into sticky situations. We hardly ever see this from him now. Still he tries to contribute to our nice football which is great, but when necessary, he isn’t afraid to find Row Z (see injury time against Swansea last weekend). Lovren’s positional play was frighteningly bad during his first season but now it’s one of the strongest parts of his game. He sticks to his game and is able to put himself in a good position to stop the attack and protect the goal. I love seeing the way that he rushes over to cover the LB slot when Milner or Moreno have been down the wing. Matip does the same with Clyne on the right hand side, and a lot of the credit for this actually should go to Jordan Henderson, because if he didn’t drop deep to cover the CB slots, Lovren and Matip wouldn’t be able to temporarily cover the FB slots.
Liverpool’s incredible start to this season has been in part down to a continuation of Lovren’s good form, which has gone largely unnoticed due to the dazzling displays of Sadio Mane, Philippe Coutinho, Adam Lallana and James Milner. But let’s not forget how good Lovren has been. Tottenham and Chelsea away have been his best performances, where was just an absolute rock for 180 minutes, including an opening goal at Stamford Bridge reminiscent of Sami Hyypia’s against Juventus in 2005. One of the less celebrated highlights of this season so far has been the emergence of the Lovren/Matip partnership and how solid they look together. Both have missed a few games due to injury, but when they’ve both been fit and played alongside one another, they’ve looked brilliant.
Lovren is one of my very favourite players now, and that’s partly because I’m a bit of a sucker for a feelgood story, and there aren’t many about in football as inspirational as Dejan Lovren’s. The turnaround in his Liverpool career since Jurgen Klopp’s arrival has been nothing short of breathtaking. He’s very quickly become one of our most important players, and no one deserves it more after how hard he’s had to fight to win the love of our fans. I was delighted that it was him who scored the winner against Dortmund (I’ll be honest, I’d have taken a goal from Mighty Red if necessary) because that game had a very similar narrative to Lovren’s Anfield career: Disastrous start, improvement after seeing Klopp, gradual fightback, before proving that no Liverpool player should ever give up.
Dejan Lovren. I’m lovin’ it.