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Has Dejan Lovren become a liability for Liverpool?

Tuesday 3rd March 2020
Liverpool's defeat to Watford cannot be blamed on Dejan Lovren alone...
Liverpool's defeat to Watford cannot be blamed on Dejan Lovren alone...

Liverpool's loss to Watford over the weekend has drawn enormous reaction from the sports world. Invincibles no more. End of the streak. Embarrassed. Finally stopped. These were amongst the captured headlines. But the defeat was bound to happen someday. It's football, it's unpredictable. Even Arsenal invincibles lost after 49 games. As it's usually the case, scapegoats were sought for the embarrassing beating handed to them by the Hornets. Dejan Lovren bore the brunt more than anyone.

But is the Croatia international really to blame? Did the manager get his selection and tactics wrong on the day? Or was it a case of the team failing to turn up? Everyone has a bad day at the office, after all...

Singling out Lovren for blame is easy. But is that fair on the player, particularly on a day the whole team failed to click?

Granted, the former Southampton defender made errors. But it was a day full of them from the boys in Liverpool red. In fact, both Trent-Alexander Arnold and Virgil van Dijk, two players who usually stand out, both struggled. The right-back, widely regarded as the best in the world, gave away a goal with a wayward back pass. His performance wasn't good enough.

Up-front, Liverpool had just one shot at goal and none on target in the first half against Watford. For a side that thrives on scoring, having just two shots in the opposition penalty box, and seven overall in the whole game, suggests the defeat could not be pinned down to one individual's performance. Not least a defender.

Sadio Mane, Roberto Firmino and Mohamed Salah have been heralded as some of the best forwards in the game An anonymous Salah was rated as the third-worst player on the pitch, as he completed just 58 per cent of his passes (FotMob). But crucially, against Watford, all members of the front three were as ordinary as they can be.

In midfield, Georginio Wijnaldum was almost non-existent, while Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Fabinho were ineffective, to say the least. The replacement of the former duo had no impact on the game whatsoever. And that's where the buck stops at the manager's table.

Jurgen Klopp has enjoyed enormous praise in the last year for his exploits as Liverpool manager. The German has won several awards for his tactical brilliance and ingenuity. From winning the Champions League and then making a mockery of the title race by blowing away the competition this term. A 22-point lead at the top of the table with 10 games to go is unprecedented in the English top flight. Despite capitulating in the title race several times previously, the Merseysiders are now just a handful of wins away from glory. Yet, he cannot be absolved of blame when the team fails to perform. After all, it's he selects the lineup and decides on the tactics to deploy.

Lovren played alongside Virgil van Dijk in Liverpool's only loss in the Premier League last season. He was also in the line up as the Reds succumbed to their first league defeat of this campaign. It becomes easy to point at him as a common factor in the defeats. But the Croatian was not on the pitch when the Reds lost 2-0 to Napoli in the Champions League last September nor was he included in the recent 1-0 defeat to Atletico Madrid. Against Napoli, Joel Matip partnered Van Dijk while Joe Gomez was chosen against Atletico. Any centre-back combination can lead to a loss.

Lovren has played several times where he helped the team keep clean sheets and win convincingly. He also steps up once in a while to score the odd goal, which is a pretty rare thing for centre-halves not named Sergio Ramos. It was Lovren who stepped up in the 65th minute to score the equaliser against Napoli last November to prevent a home defeat for the Merseysiders. Again, the front men failed to perform and he was there to lend a helping hand.

So his criticism may be overboard. And certainly, against Watford, it was the failure of the whole team, not a single player. Nor was he responsible for the front men failing to land a shot on target. The second goal didn't come from his side of defence, while it wasn't his backwards pass that let Watford in again. He's the easy target, but that's not always warranted. Besides, blaming him does no good to his confidence moving forward. He has done his bit in the season so far, and the manager (who knows a thing or two about good players) considers him good enough to feature in the team every now and then...

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Emmanuel Odey

Emmanuel is a freelance journalist who lives and breathes the round leather game. He is a contributor on several platforms. You can follow him on Twitter for more.

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