Moving through our season review to the center back position, we come to Dejan Lovren. After last season’s debacle under Brendan Rodgers, Lovren made tremendous strides under Jürgen Klopp. Lovren finally began to show why the Reds paid £20m to secure his signature from Southampton in the 2014 summer transfer window. His aggressive defending was a fantastic complement to Mamadou Sakho, creating a strong partnership up until Sakho’s unfortunate doping suspension. Lovren also scored one of the biggest goals at the club in a long time to cap off Liverpool F.C.’s quarter-final comeback against Borussia Dortmund. Lovren’s bounce back campaign was extremely important to Liverpool’s late-season surge in Europe, opening up the possibility of a long-term spot in the center of Liverpool’s defense.
Prior to his arrival at Anfield, Lovren made his name at Southampton as an aggressive, front-footed defender. In 2014-2015, Lovren possessed virtually none of these traits, leading to terrible performance after terrible performance. When Klopp took over as manager in October everything finally turned around for Lovren. Beginning with his first start under the German in Liverpool’s 4-1 demolition of Manchester City in November, Lovren showed a confidence that was nowhere to be found under Rodgers. In 39 appearances this campaign, the Croat averaged 1.4 tackles, 1.8 interceptions, and 6.3 clearances per game. He also averaged a robust nine defensive actions per match while recording only two defensive errors in 24 Premier League appearances. In comparison, Lovren had an abysmal six defensive mistakes in only 26 premier league matches last season. Eliminating the comedy of errors from his debut season was Lovren’s biggest improvement in 2015-2016. Under Rodgers, it was clear he was absolutely bereft of confidence. This resulted in nervy defending and subsequently, catastrophic errors leading to goals. Under Klopp, Lovren was able to regain his confidence that resembled his 2013-2014 performance at Southampton where he recorded a mere one error in 15 appearances.
When comparing Lovren’s stats this season to Chelsea F. C. center back Gary Cahill, it is clear how good Lovren was in 2015-2016. Cahill recorded 0.9 tackles, 1.6 interceptions, and 4.5 clearances per match—all inferior to Lovren’s numbers. Defensive statistics are not an exact science, however, Lovren’s average WhoScored rating of 7 is much better than Cahill’s score of 6.84, and his Squawka performance score of 472 was 144 points higher in only one additional performance. Lovren also won eleven more aerial duels than Cahill, resulting in an aerial duels won percentage of 79.2% to Cahill’s 64.5%. Combined with his superior defensive performance, Lovren’s passing was very strong for the Reds. Recording a passing percentage of 84.6% in the domestic campaign, Lovren bested Cahill’s mark of 83.6%. Lovren is not a conservative passer who merely took the easy pass, the average length on his passes was 21 meters compared to Cahill’s mark of 19m. Further, Lovren averaged 14 more passes per game than Cahill. Analyzing all these statistics illustrates how Lovren outperformed one of the Premier League’s most respected defenders this season domestically and in Europe. After his almost pathetic 2014-2015 season, Lovren’s rise to one of the Premier League’s better center backs is virtually incomprehensible.
While this season was a breath of fresh air after Lovren’s terrible debut season, with Klopp bringing in at least one center back this summer it is imperative that he continues his strong run of form if he is to keep his spot in the side. Even though Sakho is likely to miss the beginning of the next campaign as a result of his doping suspension, when he returns, Lovren will be competing with the likes of Sakho, Joel Matip, Joe Gomez, and any other defensive recruits Klopp brings into the squad in the transfer window. Additionally, if Kolo Toure resigns with the Reds, that would be one more player competing for two spots in an already crowded center back rotation. Lovren’s strong season likely saved his career in a red shirt, but as the team continues its rise under Klopp, Lovren will again need to raise his game if he wishes to retain his starting role in the coming years.