Dejan Lovren 2017/18 Season Review: A campaign of two halves for battling centre-back

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Dejan Lovren still has his critics and remains prone to the occasional poor performance, but he stepped up impressively for Liverpool in 2017/18.

The 4-1 defeat to Tottenham in October was, for many supporters, the final straw in Lovren’s career with the Reds as the Croatian defender endured a nightmare performance in which he was tormented by Harry Kane and was withdrawn by Jurgen Klopp before half-time.

It was a real low point for Lovren, but Klopp managed the situation sensitively and reintegrated Lovren back into the team thereafter.

Klopp has publicly stated how he believes Lovren has all the attributes of a genuinely top-class centre-back and that his biggest weakness is not to do with his ability, rather the occasional lapse in concentration.

Those lapses became less frequent as the season unfolded, and the arrival of Virgil van Dijk from Southampton in January saw a major improvement in Lovren’s game.

He played a significant role in Liverpool’s remarkable run to the Champions League final, while also helping secure a top-four finish in the league for the second season in a row.

 

Dejan Lovren, 2017/18

WEST BROMWICH, ENGLAND - Saturday, April 21, 2018: Liverpool's Dejan Lovren inspects the pitch before the FA Premier League match between West Bromwich Albion FC and Liverpool FC at the Hawthorns. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Started: 39 (All competitions)
On as a substitute: 4
Unused sub: 8
Goals: 2
Assists: 2
Average TIA Player Rating: 6.30 (Rank: 13th)

 

A Rocky Start

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Sunday, August 27, 2017: Liverpool's Dejan Lovren during the FA Premier League match between Liverpool and Arsenal at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

There was a great deal of concern last summer among many Liverpool fans regarding Klopp’s decision not to buy a centre-back ahead of the new season, after the Van Dijk transfer fiasco meant Southampton were unwilling to part with the Dutchman at that point in time.

Klopp stuck to his guns and went into the new season with Lovren still very much first choice, opting to keep faith with what he had and stay patient before eventually acquiring Van Dijk in January.

It was a significant gamble for the manager to take, and initially it looked in danger of backfiring as Lovren endured a shaky start to the new campaign in a defence which lacked cohesion and organization.

Lovren played 90 minutes as Liverpool shipped three goals against Watford on the opening day of the Premier League, as well as in the 3-3 draw as Liverpool threw away a commanding lead at Sevilla in the Champions League—not to forget the humiliation of getting substituted after half an hour at Wembley.

Liverpool's Dejan Lovren goes off after 30 minutes during the premier league match at Wembley Stadium, London. Picture date 22nd October 2017. Picture credit should read: David Klein/Sportimage via PA Images

It looked like a long way back for Lovren, as this latest calamitous performance was one too many in the eyes of many Liverpool supporters, with the prevailing sense that his erratic nature and tendency to make high-profile errors meant the Croatian simply did not justify his place in the side any longer.

On top of Lovren’s inconsistent performances on the pitch throughout his Liverpool career, the concerns around his fitness record continued this season.

He frequently missed games due to minor issues such as back pain and illness, meaning it was difficult for Klopp to build any kind of rhythm and consistency in his back four.

 

Repaying Klopp’s Faith

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Saturday, October 28, 2017: Liverpool's manager J¸rgen Klopp celebrates with Dejan Lovren after the 3-0 victory during the FA Premier League match between Liverpool and Southampton at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Klopp has always shown tremendous faith in Lovren since arriving at the club and was quick to reinstall him back into the side after his nightmare against Tottenham.

The addition of Van Dijk in January brought a new sense of leadership and organisation to Liverpool’s defence, from which Lovren benefited enormously.

Despite being billed as a leader himself when he first arrived from Southampton in 2014, Lovren struggled to live up to that expectation.

He has always been at his most comfortable when focussing on his own job without the added pressure of having to marshal the back line; a role which Van Dijk has taken to superbly.

Since January, Lovren’s performances have been consistently of a higher standard alongside the Dutchman, demonstrating his strengths as an aggressive, front-footed defender who reads the game well and is strong in the challenge.

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - Tuesday, April 10, 2018: Liverpool's Dejan Lovren celebrates after the 2-1 (5-1 aggregate) victory over Manchester City during the UEFA Champions League Quarter-Final 2nd Leg match between Manchester City FC and Liverpool FC at the City of Manchester Stadium. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

In both legs of the Champions League quarter-final against Man City, Lovren was imperious in the heart of Liverpool’s defence.

He played a pivotal role in helping Liverpool withstand an enormous amount of attacking pressure from Pep Guardiola’s side at the Etihad, constantly putting his body on the line to make crucial blocks, tackles and headers.

Despite the bitter disappointment of Liverpool’s defeat to Real Madrid in the final, Lovren was again magnificent in what was the biggest game of his professional career thus far, helping to keep Cristiano Ronaldo quiet throughout.

Lovren also leapt above Sergio Ramos to nod the ball into the path of Sadio Mane for his equaliser and was extremely unfortunate to be part of a superb defensive unit which conceded three goals through no fault of their own.

 

Improvements & Future Role

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Sunday, May 13, 2018: Liverpool's Dejan Lovren during the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Brighton & Hove Albion FC at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Liverpool have now finished in the top four for two seasons running with Lovren as a regular starter, and given his role in this season’s European campaign it’s about time he is recognised as a Champions League quality defender.

Liverpool conceded the fewest goals of any side in the Premier League in the last 29 games of the season and conceded just 14 in 17 league games in 2018, with Lovren playing a prominent role in what has developed into the most cohesive defensive unit they have had for a long time.

Klopp believes he has all the physical and technical attributes to be a world-class centre-back and that the only thing preventing him from reaching that status is his occasional lack of concentration in key moments—although those have become increasingly rare.

Still only 28, Lovren is of the prime age for a centre-back and has proven throughout the latter half of the season that he is capable of performing at the very highest level in big-pressure situations.

He’s still far from flawless and remains prone to switching off from time to time, but Lovren deserves to remain a key part of Liverpool’s squad moving forward.

ROME, ITALY - Tuesday, May 1, 2018: Liverpool's Dejan Lovren (left) and Virgil van Dijk (right) during a training session at the Stadio Olimpico ahead of the UEFA Champions League Semi-Final 2nd Leg match between AS Roma and Liverpool FC. Liverpool lead 5-2 from the 1st Leg. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Of course, as with every position on the pitch Liverpool ought to be looking to strengthen and upgrade wherever possible, but as Klopp has mentioned, a lot of money would be required to upgrade significantly on Lovren.

It’s difficult to see Klopp splashing £75 million on another Van Dijk-calibre defender this summer.

Perhaps the most likely scenario is that he brings in a defender of a similar level to Lovren, to improve upon Liverpool’s current backup options in that department in order to provide depth and competition, as opposed to a direct replacement.


Best Moment: An outstanding performance in the 2-1 away win against Man City in the Champions League quarter-final.

Worst Moment: Getting substituted after half an hour in the 4-1 defeat against Tottenham at Wembley.

Role next season: Possible starter, or first-choice backup.

 

2017/18 player-by-player reviews

ROME, ITALY - Wednesday, May 2, 2018: Liverpool's players line-up for a team group photograph before the UEFA Champions League Semi-Final 2nd Leg match between AS Roma and Liverpool FC at the Stadio Olimpico. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Karius | Lovren | Van Dijk | Matip | Gomez | Milner | Oxlade-Chamberlain | Firmino

 

To mark the end of the 30-year wait for a league title, the ‘Liverpool Mishmash’ poster is available to order exclusively on This Is Anfield — the history of the Reds in one image!

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