Predictably unpredictable is the only phrase to describe the early stages of Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool tenure. From beating Manchester City 4-1 to losing 3-0 to Watford, post-match salutes to touchline rants, and Gegenpressing to Gegenshocking, Klopp has at least brought excitement to Anfield.
Excitement is only part of the picture. Liverpool are eighth in the Premier League, having sat tenth when Klopp was appointed. If they are moving in the right direction, it’s small steps for Liverpool rather than giant leaps for Kop-kind.
That was always Klopp’s promise, of course. He spoke of a fractured club in October, and knew it would take time to restore Liverpool to former glories; points and positions reflect that. These are Rodgers’ players, but Klopp must hope to excel with them.
As Christian Benteke scored a second-half winner against Leicester, Klopp rejoiced as his £32.5million striker began his journey to redemption. A little over an hour earlier, Benteke’s Liverpool career had reached a nadir, named on the bench with his compatriot Divock Origi starting in his absence. The 20-year-old’s first-half injury offered a chance to Benteke; it was one he duly grabbed.
While victory over Leicester marked Benteke’s first step to defying his numerous critics, it signalled the continuation of an unheralded renaissance from one of his team-mates. As unpredictable as Klopp’s first two months have been, the emergence of Dejan Lovren has been its most surprising aspect.
Since joining the Reds in 2014, the name of Lovren had become synonymous with ‘mistake’. The Croatian transitioned from £20m signing to Vine superstar. He has now become Liverpool’s unsung hero, their best and most important defender. How times change.
Liverpool had questions to answer after a 3-0 defeat to Watford, but beating a Leicester side who were unbeaten in ten games offers some response. Benteke will take the plaudits for his match-winning strike, and captain Jordan Henderson provided the energy and drive, but it all centred around Lovren.
Big 3 points for Liverpool today, Dejan Lovren excellent.
— Jamie Carragher (@Carra23) December 26, 2015
The 26-year-old had the most touches (85) and completed the most passes (63) of any player on the pitch, while only Mamadou Sakho made more clearances. None of his team-mates had more shots on target; only three created more chances.
Alongside Sakho, Lovren was tasked with silencing the league’s top goalscorers, with at least one of Jamie Vardy or Riyad Mahrez having scored in each of Leicester’s preceding 16 league games. Liverpool conceded just three shots on target, with Lovren ably leading the resistance. Both Leicester’s two stars were removed before the end.
It is Martin Skrtel’s absences that have facilitated Lovren’s continued run in the side. Of Liverpool’s three main central defenders, Skrtel is the only one who has been at the club throughout Rodgers’ tenure, and has been a guaranteed starter in an era of defensive upheaval. Lovren and Sakho have been derided for their errors, but perhaps Skrtel was at least part of the problem all along. His defensive rivals have started six games together this season, keeping a clean sheet in four. Skrtel was appalling last weekend before his injury.
In a crisis of confidence, Klopp is the perfect manager. Rodgers praised Lovren as a “quality defender” after starting in the 0-0 draw against Arsenal in August, yet he was dropped less than a month later after an error-strewn performance against West Ham. Klopp conceded that he had heard “not the best things” about Lovren in November, but he has since started nine of Liverpool’s last 11 games. Where Rodgers knocked him down as quickly as he had built him up, Klopp has kept the relationship simple, taking care with Lovren’s confidence. He is reaping the rewards.
Skrtel is expected to miss six weeks with a hamstring injury, but it could be a blessing in disguise. Liverpool have now kept nine clean sheets in all competitions so far this season; Dejan Lovren has started eight of those games. Klopp’s senior central defender may not be missed.