Dejan Lovren: Liverpool’s Croatian Transformation

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Liverpool’s season has not been one of phenomenal success, but instead one of transformation and development, with Jurgen Klopp’s appointment bringing a new belief to several players. The German has improved the side greatly since taking up the reigns and no one has benefitted more following his arrival than the Reds’ 2014 big money signing, Dejan Lovren.

A Troubled First Season…

Dejan Lovren’s £20m move to Liverpool ensured the Croatian became the most expensive defender in the club’s history. Brendan Rodgers claimed he would bring leadership and stability to the defence, something that was certainly missing from what can only be described as the leakiest of back-lines following Jamie Carragher’s retirement.

Rodgers stated:

“Dejan is very commanding and has great leadership qualities. He’s a front foot defender, he’s not a waiter. He’s aggressive, he goes and attacks the ball. He’s a good character and he can play. But first and foremost a defender has to be able to defend and he can defend.”

The Reds certainly overhyped Lovren following his arrival, setting the bar extremely high, with an encouraging first performance against Jurgen Klopp’s Dortmund side in pre-season only increasing the standards expected. In this case, Brendan Rodgers did him no favours by claiming that he was, “exactly what I’ve been looking for since Jamie Carragher left.”

For Southampton, the Croatian looked assured and dominant at the back and clearly Rodgers believed he was getting the right man to sturdy a sinking ship. Sadly, that pre-season victory served as a false birth of what was to come for 2014/15.

Expectations and pressure got the best of him as he made a total of six defensive errors throughout the term, having previously only made just one in the league with the Saints.

Lovren became synonymous with Liverpool’s problems under Brendan Rodgers, with his failure to deal with the pace and trickery of Yannick Bolasie and Wilfried Zaha at Selhurst Park in November typifying his start at Anfield. His defensive mistakes became unbearable and summed up how difficult he had found the step up from Southampton to Liverpool.

According to Opta Stats, Lovren made the most errors leading to shots last season. Lapses in concentration and storming runs which left the defence wide open were a consistent feature of Liverpool’s performances and his partnership with Martin Skrtel was hardly water tight, proving detrimental for the Reds on a number of occasions.

Resurgence Under Klopp…

The appointment of Jurgen Klopp has seen a complete change in the defensive fortunes of Liverpool. Providing stability to the defence was a clear priority for the German on his arrival and he has certainly stuck to his word. Liverpool have improved greatly on their defensive record from the 2014/15 season, keeping 15 clean sheets in the 40 games since Klopp’s arrival. In comparison, the Reds had 3 clean sheets in 11 games under Rodgers.

Dejan Lovren has played a crucial role in the upturn for Liverpool, playing in all but one game under Klopp when he has been fit. The Croatian has gone from a nervy centre back who looked way out of his depth to a player who represents one of the leading candidates to adopt a place in the heart of Klopp’s defence next season with Joel Matip also set to arrive in the summer.

Jurgen Klopp has reinstalled belief back into Dejan Lovren, who reflected on how the German has helped him progress since his move:

“The manager has had a big influence on the team. We are like he said we should be – we need to be living football…There is no more pressure on me now. I need to go step by step and my performances will speak for me.”

The Croatian has restricted himself to no-nonsense play, contrasting to his rather adventurous style in the 2014/15 season which got him and the team in all kinds of trouble.

Therefore, it is not surprising that his confidence has greatly increased, allowing him to showcase the qualities he displayed at Southampton.

The 26-year-old has won 23 tackles in the Premier League this season, higher than any other Liverpool centre back – Mamadou Sakho (18), Skrtel (16) and Toure (9). Furthermore, Lovren’s stats for aerial duels won, 65, is only bettered by Sakho, who has won 67.

A Key Man

In Liverpool’s Europa League games against Dortmund, Dejan Lovren was one of the standout performers, putting his body on the line on numerous occasions. Lovren made eight clearances throughout the game, three more than anyone else on the pitch, typifying how important he has become at the heart of the defence.

Prior to kick off, the main concern was the speed of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, who was scored a total of 36 goals this season. Along with Marco Reus and Henrik Mkkitaryan the trio have 43 goals in the Bundesliga alone and more than 60 in all competitions. Therefore, very few people would have predicted that Dortmund’s star forward would been withdrawn with fifteen minutes left to play after being nullified by Sakho and Lovren.

Similarly, against Tottenham at Anfield, Lovren made timely interceptions, scrambling across to cut out loose balls and prevent Harry Kane from getting through on goal. He won 100% of his tackles, making seven clearances, five blocks and one interception. Furthermore, he won all of his aerial duels. Those stats are in serious contrast to his first season at the club!

His partnership with Sakho which once looked shaky and unreliable, now acts as the central rock for the Reds. It is quite remarkable to see just how far Lovren has come from the player who instilled fear into Liverpool supporters every time he stepped out onto the field. Now, he serves as a calming and influential figure within the side who is a key member of Klopp’s new and rejuvenated Liverpool.