Having plundered Rickie Lambert and Adam Lallana from Southampton earlier this summer, Brendan Rodgers returned to the St Mary’s club for the third time in order to acquire centre-half Dejan Lovren. The 25-year-old arrives at Anfield for a reported £20m and is Rodgers’ fifth signing of the close-season, with Lazar Markovic and Emre Can also making their way to Merseyside:
Discussing the move with the club’s official website, the Reds boss admitted the Croatian’s organisational skills will be crucial for the campaign ahead:
“This is a very important signing for us and I’m delighted it’s completed so Dejan can join up with us on our US tour. I think he’s a really commanding centre-half. I’ve said since we lost Jamie Carragher that we needed that leadership. He’s a player that gives us that. He’s very strong, very commanding, but he can play. I’ve been really impressed with him. I watched him at Lyon, he came into the Premier League with Southampton and I know their players thought he was a big driving force for them and kept them defensively solid. I think he’s a player that can still improve, still develop as he’s in his mid-20s. He’s someone I’m really looking forward to working with.”
A product of the NK Karlovac youth system, Lovren was snapped up by Dinamo Zagreb back in 2004. The defender was handed his senior debut as a 16-year-old a couple of years later before being loaned out to Croatian club Inter Zaprešić – over a couple of seasons, he became a first-team regular and scored once in 50 league outings.
After returning to his parent club for the start of the 2008/09 campaign, Lovren racked up 36 appearances over the next season-and-a-half before being acquired by Lyon midway through the 2009-10 season for €8 million. Spending four years with the Ligue 1 outfit, the Croatian gradually established himself as a key figure at the back and registered two goals and a pair of assists over 72 appearances.
Signed by Southampton boss Mauricio Pochettino last June, the centre-half turned out 31 times, scoring on a couple of occasions, with his displays proving fundamental to a run of 15 clean sheets over 2013/14.
On the international scene, Lovren has represented his country from Under-17 to Under-21 level on a total of 55 occasions, scoring six times. The centre-half has also notched twice in 21 appearances for the senior side and played all three group games in the recent World Cup.
Liverpool’s free-scoring side may have earned plenty of plaudits and Fantasy investment after racking up 101 goals in the season gone by, but a series of poor defensive displays ultimately proved their undoing. Rodgers’ side came within two points of the title in spite of a backline that conceded 50 times over 2013/14 – only 14 goals fewer than rivals City (37) and Chelsea (27) combined – and mustered a mere 10 clean sheets over the entire campaign.
Clearly, the Merseysiders need improving at the back if they are to maintain their momentum and Lovren’s acquisition certainly looks a step in the right direction. Having splashed the cash and cited the Croatian’s leadership skills, Rodgers sees the new boy as vital to his plans, and with starts looking guaranteed, it leaves Daniel Agger, Martin Skrtel and Mamadou Sakho vying for the remaining central defensive berth if, as expected, Liverpool operate with a four-man back-line again. Whilst Skrtel’s seven goals last term underline his capabilities in the opponents’ box, there’s every chance that Sakho could be set to partner the new boy, bearing in mind that Rodgers forked out £15m for the Frenchman’s services this time last year.
Priced at 5.5 in Fantasy Premier League (FPL) and 6.3 in the Sky Sports game, Lovren is already the seventh most popular defender in the former game, with an ownership of 16% and rising. Granted, full-back pair Jon Flanagan and Jose Enrique are cheaper at 5.0 apiece and, if either can nail down a regular role this term, they could provide better value than the Croatian but for now, with Skrtel and 6.0 and both Agger and Sakho at 5.5, Lovren certainly seems the safest option for those willing to take a punt on Rodgers’ defence.
Having conceded 93 goals in two seasons under Rodgers, though, it’s fair to say Liverpool are hardly deserving of such lofty price-tags at the back. Bearing in mind that the likes of Mathieu Debuchy is similarly priced and offers a route into an Arsenal defence with 17 clean sheets last term, and Tottenham new boy Ben Davies, at 5.0, will be hoping to benefit from Pochettino’s installation at Spurs, there could well be better value found elsewhere.
Whilst there’s hope that Lovren’s arrival may just be the catalyst for a turnaround in defensive fortunes for the Mersysiders, trips to City and Spurs in the first three fixtures may convince many to steer clear initially. One look at the schedule from Gameweek 4, when Liverpool face four kind home matches (AVL, EVE, WBA, HUL) and trips to West Ham and QPR in the subsequent six, suggests that if Lovren’s installation makes the difference, we could start to reconsider Liverpool’s defence once again.