Listen closely in vain. Not many are talking about Dejan Lovren. He's quietly faded back into the bushes like Homer Simpson famously did in one of the most popular animated images of the popular show. Mario Balotelli may be higher profile and a striker, but the Croatian international is the more expensive summer signing. Why has there not been more noise about a player supposedly brought in to be the defensive organiser and leader to succeed Liverpool legend Jamie Carragher?
Mario Balotelli and Dejan Lovren. While Daniel Sturridge's return may further marginalise the Italian international, Lovren's passage to the bench seems just as perilous. Three centre backs and one striker in a formation, along with repeated supportive statements from Brendan Rodgers, should give Lovren some advantage over the Italian in making his move work. The problem for both is that Brendan Rodgers has a tendency to avoid squad rotation unless forced to do so by injuries or suspensions. Poor form is given time to settle before making a decision, and this is the first season where Rodgers has had to contend with a congested fixture list where games carry equal importance bar the customary festive glut of Premier League games.
Mario Balotelli and Dejan Lovren. Every other summer signing has either succeeded, shown much promise, or been a relatively inexpensive squad addition. Unsure about Javier Manquillo or Rickie Lambert? One is a promising young player with a complicated loan deal who has found minutes in shorter supply since December, but has proven to be a good squad member. Rickie Lambert's lack of movement and conviction in attack should not mask his role as a squad player who will turn 33 later this month. Brought in for £4 million and seemingly still valued at a similar fee by Premier League clubs buoyed by his two successful Premier League seasons with Southampton, can this signing be characterised as a disaster? A sentimental disappointment perhaps, but the Kirkby native who is barely a month younger than this accursed soul has scored a goal every 328 minutes in all competitions, just every 3.64 games or so. For a backup striker, that's somewhat acceptable, if hardly astounding.
Alberto Moreno, Adam Lallana, Emre Can, and Lazar Marković have all shown more than enough for Liverpool supporters to pleased with. If not, please take a look again or wait until they show what they can do, because they will inevitably do just that: run through barbed wire fences, show intensity in their work, and be outstanding. There have been casualties in each summer transfer window of the Brendan Rodgers era. Fabio Borini seems determined to be a belated one, but will join Nuri Şahin and Oussama Assaidi from the first. Luis Alberto and Tiago Ilori still have time on loan to avoid the fate that seems destined to befall a fellow loan ranger, Iago Aspas.
None of these failures will be as bad as Lovren if he fails to regain a semblance of form. Not even Balotelli. We could be looking at the biggest flop of the Brendan Rodgers era so far. Assaidi was sold for a profit, Şahin was a loan, Liverpool will probably find a surprising offer waiting for Fabio Borini, Aspas cost £7 million, and Ilori and Alberto await judgement. The likes of Allen and Mignolet have shown what they can do at times, even if doubts surround them somewhat unfairly. Confidence with one and injuries with the other could make a difference.
The numbers do not read kindly either. Being the sixth most expensive Premier League defender and Liverpool's fifth most expensive signing of all time means Dejan Lovren needs to show something, anything. The performances have been abject enough to chill the blood. His positioning, decision-making, errors, tactical understanding, and plain defensive sense have been disastrous. Billed as the defensive leader of the post-Suárez era, Lovren has fallen desperately short. His predilection for chasing the ball as if it holds to secret to eternal life is worrying, and that kind of defending puts others under pressure. Does midfield protection ensure that a defender forgets the fundamental aspects of defending? Probably not.
Mario Balotelli's Liverpool career is admittedly dim in its prospects, but he has shielded Dejan Lovren from the hyperbolic eye of the English media. Brendan Rodgers persisted with the former Southampton centre back for far too long in the face of compelling evidence that the player needed time on the bench or out of the squad. Injury problems along with what may be a growing distrust from the manager, has seen Lovren effectively banished from the first-team picture. His last 90 minutes came in the heavy defeat at Manchester United in mid-December, nearly two months ago. His last start was against a Championship side in the League Cup only three days later.
Many squad players get minutes from Rodgers every few games, especially when the fixture list becomes congested, but Lovren has been just as unwanted as Balotelli even when their respective inclusions would have been understandable in the League Cup or FA Cup. Is he a good player? Can he show more than he has done so far? Lovren's 45 minutes away to Sunderland didn't look promising, but he deserves some games to play in a new formation with better results, momentum, and performances from the players.
There is a real chance for Dejan Lovren tomorrow against Tottenham Hotspur and beyond in a crucial month. An injury to Lucas Leiva may result in a recall for the Croatian international, if Brendan Rodgers is prepared to change his defence along with an enforced change to his midfield. The problem is that making changes to the defence could destabilise the team in one area of the team in response to injury problems in another. Is it wise to have an altered defence and midfield, or just a makeshift midfield in front of a strong defence? If Lovren returns to action this month, he won't have the defensive protection provided by Lucas Leiva, but he will be scrutinised in comparison to defenders who have been strong and convincing parts of a team that has been defensively resolute in 2015.
Perhaps he biggest problem for Lovren is an injury to Liverpool's first-choice back three would be needed for him to get a chance to start right now. With Kolo Touré on his way back after a victorious African Cup of Nations, would Lovren even be next in line to start in defence? A £20 million fifth-choice centre back was never the plan, but is the damning reality no matter how unexpected it may be.