Dejan Lovren is no stranger to criticism at Liverpool, finding himself as the individual singled out for being responsible for the collective downfall on multiple occasions.
Such treatment came the way of Lovren once again at Wembley Stadium on Sunday afternoon, though the reaction to it may have never been so severe. Two costly Lovren mistakes enabled Harry Kane and Heung-Min Son to put Spurs into a two-goal lead inside 12 minutes, and it didn’t get much better for the Croatian.
Jurgen Klopp has often been a staunch defender of the 28-year-old – so much so that he sanctioned a four-year £100,000-a-week contract for him in April – but was in no mood for niceties, replacing the defender for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain after 31 minutes.
This most recent display proved to be the straw that broke the camel’s back for Klopp, who has shown real agitation in recent press conferences towards the continuous and repeated questions surrounding his team’s defence.
But when the same things happen over and over again, it’s no wonder that the desire for an answer has grown even greater. Making an example of Lovren may have been harsh, and by no means did Liverpool drastically improve in his absence, but, given the context of the game, it was a change that simply had to be made.
Defending in isolation is not – and never has been – Lovren’s strong point. Under Mauricio Pochettino at Southampton, he thrived playing with the security of two strong defensive midfielders in front of him in Morgan Schneiderlin and Victor Wanyama.
In this Liverpool system, defenders have to be strong and able to defend in isolated situations, with both full-backs encouraged to bomb forward and support the attack. Virgil van Dijk may not have entirely fixed their issues, but you could almost guarantee they wouldn’t be this severe.
It was a bad day at the office for Simon Mignolet also, who, like Lovren, was a Brendan Rodgers signing and could be questioned for his role in all four Tottenham goals, particularly with the unconvincing punch in the build-up to the final Spurs effort. Klopp has alternatives to the Belgian, though they come in the form of Loris Karius who has been just as if not more error-prone than Mignolet, as well as the unproven Danny Ward in reserve.
Sunday proved that as much as the Liverpool system is far from perfect, the personnel in place simply aren’t good enough to perfect it on a consistent basis. Joe Gomez has shown promise, while Joel Matip has the attributes to be a solid Premier League defender and now should be the time in which Klopp utilises the pair together.
Bringing back Lovren so soon, despite what it could do to his long-term confidence levels, should not be an option. Klopp needs to stick to his guns and ensure that a new standard is set, that performances such as Lovren’s at Wembley are no longer acceptable under his watchful eye.
It didn’t get much better further forward, with the game passing by the starting midfield trio of Jordan Henderson, James Milner and Emre Can. Philippe Coutinho struggled to create, while the apparent lack of confidence in Roberto Firmino is worrying.
Losing three of last season’s starters in Nathaniel Clyne, Adam Lallana and Sadio Mane to injury hasn’t helped, though none of those losses should justify their current league position of 9th.
A reaction is key this upcoming weekend, with the team having a full week to prepare for the visit of Huddersfield Town on Saturday afternoon, as Klopp goes head-to-head with old friend David Wagner for the first time. Following on from that, they face Maribor at home in the Champions League and travel away to West Ham before the international break, with three victories expected from those fixtures.
Klopp’s hands are tied until January and it will be interesting to see just how happy he is with this squad between now and then, having previously stated his contentment at the cards at his disposal after missing out on van Dijk.
For all of the classic one-liners and often upbeat persona, Klopp is competitive to the core and Sunday may now see a more ruthless side to him unleashed. It’s baffling how some suggest that Liverpool would be better off without him – no manager in world football better fits the culture and ambition of the club than the German right now.
It took Klopp two full seasons to build his Borussia Dortmund side before winning back-to-back Bundesliga titles in his third and fourth campaign. To now, it has been a successful spell, but Sunday’s defeat must be a catalyst for change if they are to harbor any hope of achieving their ambitions this term.