Lovren and Liverpool Moving On

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I’ve never taken defeat against Manchester United well. Even back in the eighties when we were THE team, in our era of domination, defeat to them was particularly sour. Maybe it was because I had friends who supported them and it was their rare opportunity to taunt me. They were still a big club, with big ideas and would spend big in pursuit of success, but they still couldn’t break our stranglehold.

They were few and far between back then, but when they did beat us, it felt so much less bearable than losing to anyone else for me. The nineties were stomach churning and the 1996 FA Cup final literally had me doubled up in pain. What I initially thought was an adverse reaction to them beating us for that trophy turned out to be appendicitis.

So, it goes without saying that I was disappointed with the manner of our defeat at Old Trafford last weekend. In particular, I was frustrated that once again, in the pressure situation of a big game that Dejan Lovren made the same costly mistakes.

As I said post-match on the Nina Kauser Show, this was not about character assignation or attempting to blame the goals and defeat solely on him. The defeat and the performance was a team issue and that includes Jürgen Klopp. Hard as it is, I have to give credit to Jose Mourinho for his tactics in the first half; they were not revolutionary, but they were effective. They denied us space our attacking players like to operate in and they simply crowded Mo Salah out of the game. We failed to respond and adapt to this, the in-game management that we still need to improve upon, despite the many positives to come from this season.

Mourinho also looked to exploit our defensive weakness; namely the right-hand side of our defence that day. Trent Alexander-Arnold had numerous issues defending the threat of Marcus Rashford, but he is young, inexperienced and still very much learning the art of becoming a defender. I would hope that he will learn lessons from that miserable day and the unfortunate fact is that young players will have difficult performances; it’s a part of their development and a test of the many attributes required at the highest level. Trent needs to demonstrate that he can learn and improve from this experience.

For Lovren though, an experienced international centre-back, I’m much less forgiving. This was not the first or even second time we’ve witnessed these types of calamitous errors. The parallels between the first goal against United and away at Spurs are all too clear. The indecision of whether or not to challenge or hold his line, leading to him being caught in no-man’s land as he does neither.

The inability to anticipate and read danger early enough leads to him momentarily freezing when that danger materialises. This period of indecision only further pressurises the need for him to do something and too often, he makes the wrong call. The timing of his delayed decision making compromises his fellow defenders.

This is where I had an issue with Paul Dalglish on the AI Pro tactics podcast. He apportioned blame to Virgil Van Dijk for not covering and I have to disagree with him. If Lovren had sensed the potential for danger and had immediately tracked Lukaku and actually offered a challenge for the ball, then I could accept that Van Dijk and the rest of the defence should have moved and covered the space in behind. However, as with so many things, timing is everything.

Lovren’s tardiness in decision-making at key moments exposes those around him. To point the finger at others for his erratic play is unfair.

I tweeted during the game that I felt that this is surely the end of Lovren at Liverpool. I did not mean he wouldn’t play again this season, but rather that his long-term fate had been sealed. Any and all excuses are now well and truly exhausted. His mistakes cannot be written off by the quality of his defensive partner, as perhaps they could when playing with Martin Skrtel. Because, whether it be with Skrtel, Toure, Sakho, Matip, Klavan or now with Van Dijk, the common denominator is that Lovren consistently makes costly mistakes.

I firmly believe that the United game was one performance too far for Lovren, even to a manager as forgiving as Klopp; a man who has tried time and again to rehabilitate the Croatian defender and mould him into the player required.

As I said earlier in this piece, I don’t want this to seem a character assassination of Lovren because I don’t doubt the qualities of Dejan Lovren the human being. My issues are with Dejan Lovren the footballer for Liverpool Football Club. His limitations have long been abundantly clear at the level we are currently at and beyond that, where we aspire to be.

That is not Lovren’s fault, he is capable to a level, but without layers of protection and the pressure on, his limitations get exposed. I do not doubt that he gives his all and wants to succeed, I do not doubt that his heart is in it and he wants to improve, but I do doubt his ability to do so.

Perhaps, without the intense pressure and expectation that comes with playing for such a big club, he can flourish elsewhere and I would genuinely wish him well.

If you are wondering why I am writing about this now, and not immediately after that fateful United game, I simply wanted to calm down and remove myself from the emotion that it brought. So, over a week later and having enjoyed our ‘bounce back’ victory against Watford, I can serenely say that as Liverpool continue to progress and evolve, they must do so without a man who has become synonymous with defensive fragility.

Whilst Klavan has usually been an able hand when called upon and Matip again showed against Watford his calmer approach to the game and superior quality on the ball, Liverpool can do better. They’re good to have in the squad and I believe they’re better than Lovren. However, I firmly believe that the transfer market is where we will need to find a regular partner for Van Dijk. Quite simply, I would trust Klavan and Matip to come in and do a job, but I cannot say the same for Lovren.

The clean sheet versus Watford was a welcome one but doesn’t suddenly alter our vulnerabilities against higher quality opposition. Things are moving in the right direction and it’s important that a new centre-back is a part of that this summer.

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  1. It’s about damn time!

    Finally someone with some sense that can see what I’ve been seeing and telling anyone that would listen. God that sounds awfully sanctimonious…I know, forgive me. However, I’m thoroughly sick and tired of so-called experts and pundits with a platform that seem to fine faults with everyone else and neglect to mention the key issue (not solitary) is and has always has been Lovren. As you’ve stated….the common denominator over and over again, and over the years.

    The guy is just not an intelligent player, at least to the degree that is needed if the club is going ascertain the goals that they’ve set out to achieve. You can’t beat massive clubs in the PL or CL, when one the of key components of your spine constantly and consistently makes terrible decisions such as diving into unnecessary and dangerous tackles, needlessly committing himself and taking himself out of play, slow or indecisive actions, consistent panic (which can become contagious) play, and the list goes on. He’s been responsible for the club dropping around 5-8 points in my opinion, and has been consistent at that for the past 3 years or so. One of the most frustrating games over the past 5 years was the derby, in which he needlessly gave away an incredibly soft penalty.

    Although they are very few and far between, I will admit that Klopp and his staff made the wrong decision and should’ve partnered Matip with VVD for the United game. Without question Lukaku is a fantastic old style CF that bullies defenders with his sheer size and power, but I feel Matip’s decision making is much better and the fact that he has 4 inches on Lovren, would’ve made him a much more formidable opponent…especially in the air.

    To lay any blame at the feet of VVD for “not covering” is the most absurd point. I can understand the thought behind the belief that at least one of the mids should’ve dropped deeper for the long-ball tactic, essentially increasing the difficulty for Lakaku to win clean flick-ons, but to say VVD was at fault only shows your ignorance of the game. As a matter of fact, I also wholehardheartedly disagree with the thought that VVD was at fault for not covering when Mata was left unmarked when he attempted his overheard. If you watch that passage of play again, the entire back line was on the same page and holding the line except for one person. That one person kept dropping and dropping and then let Mata run free in behind him, instead of holding the line which would’ve resulted in Mata straying offside. Can you guess who that one person was who was not reading play and not on the same page as the other 3 defenders?

    Absolutely agree with everything said throughout this article and can only hope that this will be the very last year Lovren wears the shirt as he’s just not good enough, plain and simple. For me, partnering VVD with de Vrij makes the most sense. If de Vrij is good enough, and he very well appears to be so, then a dutch CB partnership for club and country is an absolute no-brainer.

  2. Absolute rubbish article. Emre can should have gone for the header. When lovren realised can did not, he had to push up for it but was too late. Then trent made the biggest error.

    Losing a header to lukaku who is one of the best in the prem in the air is hardly a crime. Which cb will win everything vs him? Lovren has actually done very well vs lukaku over the years.

    Secondly, the other errors he has made are vs spurs where he missed a header on the halfway line yet somehow the rest of the team was so far away that no one did anything to rectify it. The other error was letting in a cross in the cl game much earlier in the season. Other than that he’s been solid.

    Which cb has not made 3-4 errors this year?

    Which team does not look ‘vulnerable’ vs big teams? Every team is likely to concede in the big games so is it always an error? Which cb will give us that quality to make barely any errors all season, win every ball vs lukaku etc?

    Such a nonsense article. Lovren and matip last year were superb and had a great record.

    This year lovren has been solid too.

    Matip has missed so many headers this year however does not get picked on.

    Look at john stones, David Luiz, koscielny, emailing, cahill, otamendi etc. How many have they flopped this year?

    So to upgrade on lovren, klavan and matip would take another £60m plus defender and even then it would take a CB who can play a high line. And there are not many of those around.

    So all in all a very poor article especially after the awesome games lovrens had and after missing a header you explode with this.

  3. This is a very good article but i bet Klopp just like Lovren would not learn a damm thing from that game. Say what you want about Jose but he shows Klopp what a tactical expert is all about and most importantly, what winning a trophy is all about.
    With Klopp sticking with a defender like Lovren, does anyone seriously thinks our team can win titles?
    Winning titles is just not about having a set of fantastic attacking players and playing heavy metal football but building excellence throughout the team like what Shanks did. Sadly Klopp does not seems to understand this and we keep on seeing players like Lovren or Henderson


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