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with the Reds as the Croatian defender endured a nightmare performance in which he was tormented by Harry Kane and was withdrawn by Jurgen Klopp before half-time.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.
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
Started: 39 (All competitions)
On as a substitute: 4
Unused sub: 8
Average TIA Player Rating: 6.30 (Rank: 13th)
A Rocky Start
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.
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
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.
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 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.
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.
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