Opinion: Jurgen Klopp needs to choose if he wants to keep Dejan Lovren at Liverpool
For a defender who regards himself as one of the best in the world, Lovren does face a lot of backlashes.
The Liverpool defender has been on the receiving end of a cyclone of criticisms after his poor performance against Manchester City. Liverpool went into this crucial tie knowing that a win would extend their lead at the top by 10 points.
The final whistle cut short a dream of a double-digit lead as Klopp’s side tasted their first Premier League defeat of the season.
On a night when the blue half of Manchester locked horns with the red half of Merseyside, the only avenue for goals would require either a brilliant individual effort or a mistake. Unfortunately for Lovren, he found himself demonstrating the latter.
A lack of awareness left the Croatian dumbfounded as Aguero peeled away to smash the home team into the lead.
Throughout the match, Lovren made some poor decisions especially in the final minutes when he lofted a 40-yard pass to Van Dijk when a better option would have been to move the ball wider.
Van Dijk could not hold back his frustrations as he kept gesticulating that Lovren should have passed the ball to a wide player rather.
Dejan Lovren’s name has never been too far away from the headlines. Settling in Liverpool was always going to be a tough ask for the former Southampton center back.
Despite being hailed as a leader when he first arrived from Southampton in 2014, Lovren has struggled to live up to that expectation.
£20 million was the amount Liverpool paid to secure the services of the Croatian. An amount that was quite hefty at the time because Emre Can was signed from Leverkusen at half the price.
As a result, expectations from the Kop was always sky high as the fans believed that their defensive problems were going to be solved.
Four years down the line and it is fair to say that the expectations of the Kop have been met but their solution came in the form of another former Southampton center-back Van Dijk.
Lovren has always been at his best when focussing on his own job without the added pressure of having to marshal the back line – something that Van Dijk does exceptionally well.
Prior to the arrival of Van Djik last season, Lovren was pretty much Klopp’s first choice center-back. Despite the whole universe acknowledging the fact that Liverpool needed a new center-back due to consistent under-par performances from a coterie of defenders consisting Matip, Lovren, Klavan, and Gomez, Klopp stuck to his guns and kept the faith.
A gamble that backfired after Liverpool’s defense looked in shambles at the beginning of last season. Lovren endured a rickety start to the season in a defense that lacked cohesion and organization.
In the first match of the season, Liverpool conceded three goals against Watford despite scoring three goals– a highlight that Liverpool’s faults were at the back. Lovren was in the headlines yet again as Liverpool blew a three-goal lead against Sevilla to draw 3-3.
One would think the final straw for Lovren would have been the 4-1 defeat to Tottenham at Wembley. The Croatian defender endured a horrendous performance in which he was embarrassingly substituted by Jurgen Klopp before half-time.
It was arguably the lowest point in Lovren’s Liverpool career. It looked like a long way back for Lovren, as this latest calamitous performance was one too many in the eyes of many Liverpool fans, with the prevailing sense that his unpredictable nature and tendency to make high-profile mistakes meant that Lovren simply did not justify his place in the side any longer.
Klopp has always kept remarkable faith in Lovren and he quickly managed the situation professionally and reinstated Lovren back into first-team action. The introduction of Van Dijk in January also brought some stability and organization in Liverpool’s defense.
Lovren’s performances have been consistent alongside the Dutchman, demonstrating his strengths as an aggressive front-footed defender who reads the game very well.
It is no coincidence that 2018 was arguably Lovren’s best year in terms of achievements. He played a momentous role in Liverpool’s remarkable run to the Champions League final, while helping secure a top-four finish in the Premier League for the second consecutive season. On the International front, Lovren helped Croatia reach their first ever World Cup final.
The thin line between form players and classy players is consistency, an attribute that has been missing from Lovren’s locker. He has missed many games due to minor issues such as illness and back pains.
Lovren was absent at the beginning of this season because of a persistent pelvic issue sustained at the World Cup. Whilst nursing his injury, Lovren found himself in court after being charged with perjury alongside Real Madrid star Luka Modric, after being alleged to have given false testimony during the embezzlement case of former Dinamo Zagreb executive Zdravko Mamic.
Lovren's role in the case comes from the illegal profiting of his €8.5m move from Zagreb to Lyon in 2010, where 50% of his transfer fee was passed onto the Mamic family. The verdict means that Dejan Lovren now awaits trial (date to be announced). Clearly, Lovren hasn’t been in the right mental state since the beginning of this season and has suffered the consequences of experiencing lapses in concentration.
The performance against City has reinvigorated the cry of Liverpool fans to get Lovren out of the Liverpool team but the big question is who steps in? Matip has experienced good spells in the team but keeping him fit is a big problem.
The transfer window is open, as with every position on the pitch Liverpool ought to be looking to strengthen wherever possible, but as Klopp has mentioned, a huge amount would be required to improve significantly on Lovren. It’s difficult to see Klopp splashing £75 million on another ‘Van Dijk-esque’ defender this January. Therefore, the most viable option will be Joe Gomez who was very brilliant before sustaining an ankle injury. The only downside is the lack of experience needed to defend consistently at the top level – an attribute which will develop with time.
Klopp’s patience was tested in the Champions League final after mistakes from Karius saw him replaced at the club with Allison. Mistakes in the game against Manchester City may not force Klopp to get rid of Lovren, but Klopp needs to make his decision on Lovren quickly because a 4-point lead is not enough margin to afford any more lapses in concentration by the Croatian defender.
Klopp believes Lovren has all the physical and technical attributes to be a world-class center-back and that the only thing preventing him from reaching that status is his occasional lack of concentration in key moments.
Of course, the question remains: will Lovren bounce back and rediscover his best form from 2018? Or will Liverpool's most promising season end with the ball rolling out of the net; Alison in disbelief, Van Dijk in tears and Lovren, at the center of it all, dejected, looking at the ground, guilty of yet another costly mistake.