26 July 2020 18:36
Get that Champions feeling every day by signing up for our Liverpool FC newsletter Sign me up Thank you for subscribing We have more newsletters Show me See our privacy notice Invalid Email There haven't been many Liverpool careers as complex and unfathomable as that of Dejan Lovren. Imagine being told on his arrival from Southampton for £20million in July 2014 that Lovren would go on to effectively mark Cristiano Ronaldo out of a Champions League final, win a European Cup, help end Liverpool's long wait for the Premier League title, contribute one of the most famous goals in Anfield history while also featuring in a World Cup final. Then imagine being told a sizeable number of supporters would ultimately be relieved the Croatian is leaving. It doesn't make sense. But then, with Lovren, that has often been the case during his time at Anfield, a polarising figure among the fanbase yet hugely popular among the squad and trusted by Jurgen Klopp.
Six years ago, Lovren was the big-money signing expected to shore up a leaky Liverpool back line and build on their second-placed finish to Manchester City the previous campaign. Instead, he became a victim of the tortuous term that followed under Brendan Rodgers - famed for an horribly ambitious shot towards the end of the dismal FA Cup semi-final defeat to Aston Villa - and was guilty of some nightmare errors at the start of the next campaign, most notably at home to West Ham United that left him admitting he wanted to "hide under the table" afterwards. That was typical Lovren, as emotive a player as he is person, wearing his heart on his sleeve. Order your copy of the Liverpool ECHO with all the best pictures, news and comment when the Reds lift the trophy here The arrival of Klopp, though, saw him slowly get to grips with life at Liverpool. Injury ruled him out of the League Cup final defeat to Manchester City in 2016, but he played the full match in the Europa League final reverse to Sevilla having earlier in the competition scored the memorable last-minute winner in the 4-3 comeback win over Borussia Dortmund. The following season saw him a regular alongside Joel Matip as Champions League qualification was secured, and the next campaign an unfortunate injury to the Cameroonian shortly after Virgil van Dijk's January arrival meant Lovren remained. Arguably his best performance for the Reds came that term in the Champions League quarter-final second leg win at Manchester City, and he went to impress in the final defeat to Real Madrid while also assisting a goal for Sadio Mane. (Image: (Photo by Andrew Powell/Liverpool FC via Getty Images)) Indeed, City were a favoured opponent of his, starting six of the last eight games, winning four and skippering the side in the memorable 4-3 Anfield win in January 2018. The two games in which he didn't feature - the Community Shield in August and this month's trip to the Etihad - Liverpool lost, Lovren missing the latter through injury. And that was too often the problem in the last two seasons, a series of ailments - most notably having played through the pain barrier to help Croatia reach the World Cup final in 2018 - helping limit him to just 33 outings having made 43 in 2017/18 alone, falling behind both Joe Gomez and Matip in the pecking order. Nevertheless, Lovren had a good run of games before Christmas this term until a hamstring problem saw him subsequently limited in the Premier League to a dreadfully rusty outing in the 3-0 reverse at Watford and a wobbly cameo at Everton. There will be supporters who will never ever be convinced of the 31-year-old's worth at Anfield. Lovren, though, can rightly point to those two prized winners medals and claim to have had the last laugh as he departs for Zenit St Petersburg. How Liverpool now fill the breach is something with which Klopp must grapple. Young duo Ki-Jana Hoever and Sepp van den Berg are untested at the highest level, Nat Philiips could do a job having been on loan at Stuttgart although it wouldn't be ideal to push Fabinho into centre-back duty, even if it's only temporary. It way well Liverpool have to look to the transfer market. And finding even a fourth-choice centre-back of Lovren's calibre won't be easy, no matter what his detractors say.