One of the more interesting (to some) or frustrating (to others) transfer sagas of the summer for Liverpool has been that of Dejan Lovren. The Southampton center back moved to Southampton a year ago from French powers Lyon, but after a six-month period that has seen major upheaval at the once-rising club, he seems to think it's time to move on.
So far this summer, Lovren has "had [his] head turned" by Liverpool, been the subject of multiple offers, and was even considering holding out of preseason training in order to facilitate a move. It's probably fair for him to feel unsettled; two months ago, the Croatian international was part of a very solid core of players that looked to give Southampton a very bright future for the next two years. Now, he and Morgan Schneiderlin are all that's left of that core, and the club have entertained a variety of offers for both.
DOB: July 5, 1989 (25) | Height: 6'2" (1.88 meters)
2014 Season: 31 appearances (31 starts)
2 goals, 1 assist
Strengths: If you want a defender who's comfortable on the ball and capable of playing a variety of passes, Dejan Lovren is your man. He carries the ball like a midfielder, and has a pretty deft eye and touch when it comes to picking out his target. That skill is especially valuable when playing on the counter, as he's capable of taking a touch or two to get the ball out of trouble and then getting the ball up the pitch accurately to an attacking midfielder in position to cause problems.
Another interesting bit for Lovren is that he's very good at stepping up from his spot in defense to intercept a pass or cross. That's helped him stymie a number of otherwise dangerous attacks over the years, and dovetails nicely with how Liverpool deploys their back line. The fact that he can do that from either central defense spot (where Liverpool's other center backs all seem to have a side that they're clearly better on) is just a nice little bonus.
Lovren is also regarded as a good organizer of his back line, though that can be a little hard to judge, especially as he isn't terribly vocal about it. It's definitely worth noting, though, that Jose Fonte had probably the best season of his career while working with Lovren and Lyon's defense made mistake after mistake after mistake this past season without him. Those aren't always easy things to quantify and say for sure are down to Lovren's influence, but those are things there to be judged.
Weaknesses: There are a few issues that make a high-money deal for Lovren a little bit of a concerning affair. First of all, he's not particularly good in the air. That's not to say that Lovren is bad in the air, but in a league as physical as the English Premier League, you need to be more than simply adequate at going up for a ball. This issue especially shows up on set pieces, where he's often struggled to contain opposing defenders or target strikers. This is something Lovren might be able to improve on (in the fairly soft environment of Ligue 1, it wasn't something that needed to be worked on), but it's definitely far from his strong suit right now.
Lovren also has issues with his own positioning at times, and it tends to cause a couple different problems. First and foremost, sometimes he just plants himself in the wrong spot in defense and loses a runner who comes in behind him or winds up too far to properly support a teammate who needs a hand. Sometimes it looks almost like he's switched off for a moment, but either way it's not a great thing to see since that's something Liverpool's defense has struggled with for the last couple of years.
It also crops up in how he defends one-on-one; Lovren too often lines himself up wrong, ending up either too easy to run past, or faced in such a way that an attacker needs only one little move to get space and lose him. When facing down a dribbler, for instance, Lovren too often commits his direction early, letting the attacker simply cut the ball behind him and it's off to the races with Lovren eating his dust.
Saints Insist There Has Been No New Lovren Bid
Despite reports that the deal was all but done, Southampton insist they have had no contact with Liverpool in the past week about defender Dejan Lovren.
Summation: Dejan Lovren is a good player, there's no questioning that. He has his issues, but his qualities outweigh his shortcomings. At the right price, he'd be a brilliant addition, just like he was when Southampton bought him from Lyon a year ago for £8.5 million. Where things get questionable is when you look at the fee involved, and when you get to £20 million and above, you start to want a little something "extra" from your defenders that Lovren lacks.
For £20 million, you want a somewhat more complete defender, one that doesn't struggle in the air or one-on-one. For £20 million, you want a defender who can make a clear and significant impact in your side. For £20 million, you want a defender who's a definite upgrade on what you already have... but is Lovren a clear and definite upgrade?
He's not better than Mamadou Sakho, who Liverpool bought for £16 million eleven months ago. He's better at some things than Martin Skrtel, but Skrtel is better at others and the two are probably roughly equivalent overall. He might be better on Daniel Agger based on last season's form, but then you're looking at a £20 million third-best central defender who might actually only be your fourth-best central defender.
That's potentially a damn expensive backup. Obviously you need as good of depth as possible for the Champions League (rotation, rotation, rotation), but... that's a damn expensive backup.
Now, if Rodgers and company see something in Lovren that they can use or exploit or improve that will turn him in to a top defender, then it's a deal well worth making at the price. Based on available evidence, though, things are much shakier, especially when you consider Liverpool's overall situation at the position.