Aaron Cutler analyses Dejan Lovren‘s difficult start to life at Anfield and asks whether the Croat was over-hyped.
We need to talk about Dejan.
Sometimes a designated leader is found wanting. Sometimes the obvious choice is not always the correct one. Take Iain Duncan Smith, Tony Hayward and David Moyes – three men parachuted into positions of authority only to come up painfully short.
Indeed the Croatian centre back’s early season form has mirrored that of his team. Suffering somewhat of an identity crisis Lovren’s performances are a cause for major concern. The circus that engulfs Mario Balotelli has perhaps spared our £20m signing from serious interrogation.
In fairness charging one player with the task of sorting a backline as shambolic as ours is a big ask. A quite embarrassing defensive record has plagued the Rodgers era outright, suggesting systematic flaws. That said Lovren is hardly helping himself.
Described as a front foot defender he has taken that tag a little too literally. Keen to attack everything such enthusiasm is readily misplaced and can lead to mass panic. Take the chaos of last Sunday as a case in point. A remarkable screen grab has circled social media platforms depicting Lovren in the D – this while the ball is headed back across his own six yard box, behind him. If Get Up! is the cry you need to make damn sure your teammates follow, whilst clearing their lines – obviously.
That image encapsulates a difficult start to life on Merseyside. His (pre-season) debut aside Lovren has faltered, regressing into a nervous wreck.
The slide began at Eastlands, where a loss of bearings allowed Sergio Aguero to race clear and kill the game. It continued at White Hart Lane where both a collision with Mamadou Sakho and a misplaced pass should have been punished. From there the decline has hastened.
Outmuscled at home to Villa, his error led to a winning goal. Though harshly penalised for a foul outside the box, his rashness conceded a penalty and resulting equaliser against West Brom. Then came QPR before the collective blunder that led to Madrid’s third on Wednesday.
Of the 17 goals Liverpool have shipped (with Lovren in the side) our number six has been directly linked to 9. You could argue a centre back will always feature prominently in such inquests but Liverpool are on course to concede 57 goals this term and the elected saviour seems powerless to prevent that ignominy.
Supposedly a self-assured, commanding type those traits have certainly deserted the Croatian international. Erratic in possession, his positioning is often suspect, while absolutely no aerial authority has been evidenced. Heck Bobby Zamora was made to look like the first coming of Didier Drogba, bullying Lovren in a manner that cost Daniel Agger his Liverpool career.
The aforementioned West Brom victory meanwhile provided a snapshot of the individual state of mind. Midway through the second half he received the ball on the edge of the area before being swiftly shut down. Rather than clear upfield he attempted to play a suicidal exchange of passes with the nearby Steven Gerrard. Foolish, it wreaked of indecision and inferiority in equal measure. It also underlined this theory of an identity crisis.
Lovren has been bullishly promoted as this ball playing, aerially dominant, commanding beast – the answer to our inherent defensive woes. Have such superlatives robbed him of his natural game? Is he trying too hard to fit the bill, thus forgoing any settling in period?
It is easy to forget at just 24 he is a relatively inexperienced player himself, certainly on the big stage. Like Rickie Lambert he is perhaps too eager to impress, over exuberant to the detriment of his all round performance.
Of course laying the blame for a calamitous rearguard solely at Lovren’s door is harsh and simplistic. He has hardly been aided by the havoc surrounding him.
Firstly there is Martin Skrtel – a decent defender whose form tends to hinge on that of his defensive partner. Rash and all too concerned with wrestling target men he is, regrettably, an accident waiting to happen.
Behind that duo is a goalkeeper suffering his own crisis of confidence. The Simon Mignolet debate is recycled as often as a Bond film on itv4. The fact is he is an incredible shot stopper with little else to his armoury. The Belgian’s distribution is horrendous while those rare occasions he does come for a ball invariably lead to garish hysteria. Put simply you have a defence encouraged to play a high line hindered by a goalkeeper who refuses to leave his.
The ensuing horror is worsened further still when the stopper attempts what simply does not come naturally. Big problem.
Then there is the lack of an obvious defensive shield. At St Mary’s Lovren had not only Morgan Schneiderlin but Victor Wanywama providing athletic and combative protection. For all his majesty Steven Gerrard is not and never will be that type of player. He is more Andrea Pirlo than Javier Mascherano meaning we are far too penetrable through midfield. Big problem.
Finally our defending of set pieces is nothing short of disgraceful. Analyse it all you want but the truth is no tactics, form of marking or game plan can explain away such amateur, abject and appalling ‘efforts’.
Fans would like to know what – if any – drills are rehearsed at Melwood to cure this cancer. You would be forgiven for thinking the problem is arrogantly ignored, such is the blatant decline. A crisis approaching three years Lovren cannot be blamed, even if he has done little to remedy the deficiencies.
So in short Lovren has been thrust into an asylum and sadly caught the disease. Perhaps unfairly he is nevertheless the face of this defence going forward, given Rodgers’s lengthy pursuit and subsequent soundbites. The ostracism (injury or not) of Mamadou Sakho simply confirms that fact.
As supporters we need to accept this is Brendan’s man and he will be afforded time to find his feet. The great worry is the longer that takes, the uglier things will get. Brace yourself.