Not that pre-season starting line-ups should be taken as gospel, but the recent selections of Brendan Rodgers suggest that Dejan Lovren will be Martin Skrtel’s central defensive partner for Liverpool’s Premier League opener with Stoke.
The term big-money failure almost doesn’t do justice to how poor Lovren’s first season at Anfield was after his £20 million purchase from Southampton.
Only Tottenham’s Eric Dier made more errors directly leading to goals in the last campaign among defenders, his distribution was relatively poor, he was found out in a positional sense by focusing on marking a player over filling space and was caught out because of a lack of pace.
At Southampton, Lovren was significantly supported by the double defensive midfield pivot of Morgan Schneiderlin and Victor Wanyama, while Luke Shaw was a stable presence at left-back.
The midfield protection hasn’t been anywhere near as solid at Liverpool, while Alvaro Moreno is a wannabe winger from left-back who relies on his pace to make amends for a lack of useful defensive attributes.
However, Liverpool are expected to line-up in similar fashion this season, with James Milner no more defensive in midfield than Steven Gerrard and Moreno the favoured left-back option again, unless teenager Joe Gomez is possibly preferred.
Despite this, it still seems that Lovren is to be given another chance alongside Skrtel, leaving Mamadou Sakho to sit on the bench.
The Skrtel-Lovren partnership has been seen in Liverpool’s last three noteworthy friendlies against Helsinki, a Malaysia XI and Adelaide United, while Sakho’s only start in this time came in a largely youthful line-up for a 60-minute match on the stop off in Malaysia.
Looking back at last season’s statistics, Lovren’s pass completion rate was far lower than Skrtel and Sakho, while he won a lower percentage of tackles.
Areas where the Croatian is stronger is in terms of the number of headers he wins and clearances he makes. The problem with this though is that these are also the defensive areas where Skrtel is strongest.
Most good defensive pairings are made up of players with different attributes, typically one that likes to attack the ball and another who prefers to sweep in behind.
Sakho isn’t a natural sweeper, but is arguably more of a back-foot defender than the other pair, while also being left-footed with experience of playing full-back, which makes it easier to cover behind an out-of-position Moreno.
To many Liverpool fans Sakho was the club’s best defender last season and it will seem illogical how he isn’t in the starting line-up.
After all, he may not be the most expansive passer or especially willing to bring the ball out from the back, but the fact he is in close competition with Arsenal’s Laurent Koscielny for a start in the French national team would indicate he is well thought of.
Stoke beat Liverpool 6-1 on the final day of last season and should be backed at 2/1 to take the three points again if Skrtel and Lovren are confirmed as Rodgers’ chosen centre-back pairing.
With Skrtel and Sakho starting, Liverpool won two-thirds of their matches last season, with Skrtel and Lovren, a loss was the most common outcome.