It's not easy being Dejan Lovren. After a difficult freshman season with Liverpool last year, the former Southampton man went on to have a middling pre-season in which the same sorts of school boy errors made in matches that mattered kept happening in friendly matches that didn’t.
It was enough to cause fans to question manager Brendan Rodgers' sanity when Lovren was rumoured to be on the team sheet ahead of Mamadou Sakho, but with the Frenchman out of the team sheet due to the birth of his second child earlier in the week, Lovren had an uncontested chance to prove his quality in the season opener. With a clean sheet in hand, Liverpool's defensive frailties of the past looked far less worrisome than in previous outings, and Rodgers deduced that his favourite centre back may have "arugably" given his best performance in red yet.
"I think he’s gained the confidence from knowing he was going to start in the team, and he stood up to the challenge really well today," Rodgers explained. "The two centre halves were excellent. Defensively we were strong. We knew we would have to defend well, and then we know we have the quality to go and win the game. I was really pleased with the performance; it certainly feels better than 11 weeks ago!
"The game in May was a one-off, I said that beforehand. It was a unique game, and did not epitomise the team that I have had during three years here. But it still happened, and you have to be better and you have to be more resolute. That was the focus of our work over the course of pre-season – making sure our defensive organisation and our pressing as a team was better, because we know we have the quality. It was a very good victory for us."
Post match reaction in some quarters was quick to point out that Mamadou Sakho was involved in the 6-1 rout by Stoke to end last season, while Lovren managed a clean sheet in the same fixture on Sunday. It's an exaggeratedly simple assessment, of course, but regardless of whether or not that argument has any merit whatsoever, it's a match in which Lovren did not give the worst performance. If Liverpool fans have been begging for improvement from the Croatian for an entire year now, then they can only hope this is the start of something great if he's to keep his starting slot over Sakho.