The Argentinians were unable to break through a resilient Croatian defensive display in which Reds defender Dejan Lovren took the lead role. It would eventually be the Croat midfield, the envy of most countries, that would make the telling contributions, but the first task when handling a team of Argentina’s quality up front is to stop them from scoring.
I will argue with anyone that Lionel Messi is the best player who has ever walked the planet, but he didn’t have a sniff last night. He came deep and central so many times to try and get involved with play but he was thwarted by Lovren almost every time. The Croatians defended well as a unit but Lovren stood out as one of the most impressive players on the pitch.
And of course it wasn’t just Lionel Messi. Sergio Aguero, who has a very good goalscoring record against Liverpool, was on the pitch and when his turn was up, Gonzalo Higuain was his replacement. Such is the embarrassment of riches that they have in the forward line, Argentina head coach Jorge Sampolini was also able to call on Juventus star Paulo Dybala as well.
And yet after a pretty tense, even first half, Argentina barely mustered a shot of worth as the Croatians overran them in the second period. From a Liverpool perspective it is of no surprise to see Lovren throwing in a performance of this quality.
Lovren is capable of stringing together long runs of excellent performances. He ended the season strongly as he furthered his partnership with Virgil van Dijk. He was particularly excellent in the Champions League final in Kiev.
Although the final scoreline doesn’t reflect the fact, we were defensively rock solid in that match. Cristiano Ronaldo may be the current top scorer at the 2018 World Cup but he didn’t have a sniff in the Champions League final. He was marked very effectively and Lovren has to take a lot of the credit for that. Had fate been on our side and unforgivable individual errors cut out of the match, the outcome could have been a lot different.
It wasn’t the perfect performance of course, a Lovren switch off almost cost a goal but Enzo Perez rolled the ball wide of an open goal which about summed up Argentina’s night. It is these moments that holds Lovren back from being one of the very best in the world. He will put in a 9 out of 10 match and then make one horrible mistake. In a red shirt, that usually costs a goal. It didn’t last night and so it will not be spoken of again as Croatia went on to win handsomely.
There is no such thing as a perfect footballer and they will all make mistakes. It’s just that Lovren always seems to get punished – if we recall the Roma game when we were 5-0 ahead, Lovren misjudged a ball that he tried to win. That’s his game, aggressive, assertive and positive. He is the definition of a first ball defender. But in a Champions League semi-final, you will get punished. He jumped under the ball and Edin Dzeko gave Roma a path back into the game.
The Croatian really conflicts me. On one hand, I see a class act who is capable of being a very worthy part of our vastly improved defence. On the other, I see someone who I just can’t trust because it feels like a mistake is around the corner and who I refer to as “The Croatian Catastrophe.”. But he really, really does possess the raw tools to be a top class centre half and he is showing this as he represents his country. He largely played the same in the last two months of the season for Liverpool too.
With Croatia already through to the knockout phase, it could well be that Lovren will get a chance to tangle with the rest of world football’s elite. If he continues in such a run of form, and Croatia’s dynamite midfield continue to raze opposition as they did against Argentina, they are going to be a very, very difficult prospect to handle for any team.