Liverpool, as a club, cycles from despair to redemption several times a season and especially in the offseason. It should be no surprise that one of our longest serving players has gone through a few peaks and valleys during his run as a Red.
Dejan Lovren’s highs and lows are special in that he has a special ability to take millions of Liverpool supporters along for the ride with him. We all feel the pain in our gut when Lovren allows Harry Kane to float past him 40 yards from goal against Spurs. We all shared the glory when he put that header in against Dortmund.
Reds supporters have been through these extremes with Lovren again and again, overlapped by a similar rhythm provided by the likes of Moreno, Mignolet, Henderson, etc. But, is there something different about this last ebb from our capricious centre-back?
After the start of the new year, Klopp tore up the blue-print for his existing back five. Virgil van Dijk, Andy Robertson, Trent Alexander-Arnold and Loris Karius replaced Matip, Moreno, Gomez and Mignolet. The manager was rotating regularly throughout the holidays, so aside from VVD and Karius, the rest didn’t strike many as unusual. Maybe Van Dijk was so impactful that it created the platform for them all to succeed, maybe Karius removed the uncertainty that was ever-present with Mignolet in goal or maybe all of them just worked well in concert, regardless of the root cause, the result was the best defensive run for Liverpool in years.
The one component that didn’t change was Dejan Lovren, moving to the right side, but maintaining his place in the eleven. Liverpool allowed only 9 league goals through 2018, best in the Premier League and led the Champions League in clean sheets. And, despite a horrific Champions League final, Lovren delivered, containing Cristiano Ronaldo on a stage where Real’s talisman was desperate to put on a show.
Starting alongside Domagoj Vida in Croatia’s World Cup side, Lovren is the leader at the back, and through two matches their defence has been perfect with two clean-sheets while looking like a dark-horse to win the tournament.
Dejan Lovren having a great World Cup so far. Carrying on where he left off in the Champions League final.
— James Pearce (@JamesPearceLFC) June 21, 2018
Half a year of top-level performances against the best-attacking talent the world can throw at him in three different tournaments is quite something. Has something fully clicked with Lovren that hadn’t before or is there another calamity on the horizon? This is a key question Michael Edwards and Jurgen Klopp have to answer this summer as they decide how to allocate the club’s significant cash reserves.
Among centre-backs under the age of 30 with 20+ appearances, WhoScored.com has Lovren rated as the 13th best in all of Europe, one slot below César Azpilicueta. Can that be improved upon? Of those ranked above Lovren, Milan Skriniar, James Tarkowski and Kurt Zouma would be the most realistic targets. But would the marginal gain be worth shuffling the deck again rather than allowing them to build on a great second half, shielded by a now ferocious looking midfield?
The logical answer has to be that spending on a new starting centre-back is not the best use of Liverpool’s funds. A young reserve to compete with the oft-injured Joe Gomez, and be groomed to take over for the 28-year-old Lovren in years to come… that makes a lot more sense. A Benjamin Pavard from Stuttgart or an Unai Núñez from Bilbao might make sense if they were willing to be the number 3rd or 4th man in Liverpool’s back line.
There will be plenty out there who will say that we were fooled before with strong stretches from Simon Mignolet and Albie Moreno and should move on from Lovren at his peak rather than waiting for another crater. While there is merit to that argument, the hit rate with centre-backs among the top-six Premier League clubs is so poor that Liverpool would really be taking a gamble that any replacement could reach Lovren’s average level.
We have history with Dejan Lovren and some of those memories sting, but if a centre-back were out on the market today with a Champions League run and a World Cup run back-to-back, then supporters would be shouting from the rooftops for Liverpool to have the ambition to sign him. In this case, we have to have the ambition, the persistence to stick with him.