Former Liverpool defender Mark Lawrenson has given his backing to under-fire centre-half Dejan Lovren, who is widely expected to start alongside Martin Skrtel during our opening game of the season away to Stoke.
The Croatian, who endured a difficult debut season on Merseyside following his big-money move from Southampton, will no doubt be anxious to start putting things right as soon as possible this year.
Unfortunately, it’s not started well for him, with a handful of mistakes littering an otherwise solid pre-season campaign – and many Liverpool fans have been left fearing how he’ll perform against a better standard of opposition.
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However, Lawrenson – who won 12 major honours during a seven year spell with the club – thinks that the player can still turn things around, and deserves to be given the time to do just that.
Speaking in his Liverpool Echo column, he said: “If the manager is giving him the shirt to start the season, then he has to be prepared to back him in the coming weeks as well.
“As a defender myself, I can’t stress enough the importance of regularity and familiarity in the position. It’s all about the understanding you can get going with those around you – with your partner in the middle, with your central midfielders, your full-backs and your goalkeeper.
“I guess at times last season, it was impossible to get that kind of understanding. If you look back, there were regular changes to the back four at the start of the season, then there was the switch to the back three, and then back again. Lovren, Sakho, Simon Mignolet, Glen Johnson, Emre Can, Alberto Moreno; they were all in, then out, then in again. No wonder it looked disjointed.
“From Lovren’s perspective, the instruction has to be simple; ‘defend, defend, defend.’ Of course we want to see our centre backs bringing the ball out and looking confident in possession, but first and foremost has to be the focus on clean sheets.
“If you’re keeping clean sheets, you’re building confidence, and that is priceless for a defender – particularly one who has had a tough time like Lovren has. I think there is a good player in there, but one who has been trying too hard to impress and just hasn’t settled as a result.”
While Skrtel, Lovren and right-back Nathaniel Clyne are all but guaranteed their places, the left-back slot is still very much of for grabs, with Joe Gomez going head-to-head with Alberto Moreno. Lawrenson says he has been deeply impressed by the former, who he expects to play today, despite his young age.
“I worked on the club’s pre-season games in Australia and the Far East, and I was hugely impressed by Gomez,” he continued. “He’s 18, but he looks and plays like a man. He’s physically very good, he has got composure and quality on the ball, and he reads the game very well.
“He oozes maturity for a player so young, and what a huge confidence boost it would be for him if he were to be given a start at the Britannia. Sometimes, a player comes along who is just ready, and you have to chuck him in. The fact that Rodgers seems prepared to do that, even out of position at left back, speaks volumes for how impressive he has been.”
Lawrenson also implored manager Brendan Rodgers to start with summer signing Christian Benteke up front, despite him having only featured once for the club in pre-season.
“If he only lasts 70 or 75 minutes, then so be it,” he added. “Give him the chance to start building that understanding with the likes of Lallana, Coutinho, Ibe, Milner, Henderson.
“And give the team the best possible chance of winning the game. That means the Belgian starts. He has to.”