Liverpool’s opening day match against Southampton was given added spice because of the summer transfer business between the two sides.
The Reds have signed three of Southampton’s key stars – Rickie Lambert, Adam Lallana and Dejan Lovren – during the transfer window so far and Sunday’s clash proved to be the perfect opportunity for the Saints to prove that they could cope without some of last season’s protagonists.
Under the guidance of Mauricio Pochettino, Southampton finished eighth in the Premier League last season and earned many plaudits.
However, the loss of the aforementioned trio combined with the departures of Calum Chambers and Luke Shaw has led to questioning over just how well equipped Saints are to repeat the feat again this summer.
There have been many tipping the depleted team to struggle this season, but they put in an encouraging performance in their opening game.
Despite losing to Liverpool, Saints, now stewarded by Ronald Koeman, looked impressive and deserved at least a point at Anfield.
The likes of Dusan Tadic, Nathaniel Clyne and, most notably, James Ward-Prowse shone on Merseyside as Southampton made a valiant effort to show that they have ample quality in the side to compete with the best this season.
They did fall up just short, though, and one of the reasons for this was the defensive performance of Lovren.
The Croatian defender made a stellar debut and showed exactly what the south-coast club are missing – as evidenced by the difference in quality of his performances to Jose Fonte.
Fonte was at Southampton last year and regularly partnered Lovren at the heart of Southampton’s defence, but he could not match up to his former teammate on Sunday.
|Position||Team||Match||Duel Won||Aerial Won||Won Tackle||Interception||Fouls||Effective Clearance||Touches||Mins Played|
|Jose Fonte||DF||Southampton||Liverpool vs Southampton||7||0||4||6||1||1||54||90|
|Dejan Lovren||DF||Liverpool||Liverpool vs Southampton||7||6||1||4||1||11||86||90|
The £20million Liverpool purchase and Fonte shared similar defensive stats, but the class of Lovren shone through.
Although he made less tackles than Fonte, they won the same amount of duels with the opposition strikers and Lovren was far more dominant in the air.
However, it is on the floor where the difference was most vast. Southampton and Liverpool are two of the more patient and progressive sides in England and demand a certain ability on the ball and Lovren highlighted his adeptness in this side of the game.
He made more touches than his former Portuguese counterpart, more passes forward and was more effective at clearing the ball when needed.
It showed that Lovren has the capabilities to be robust, but technical and that is the skill which has made him one of the most highly regarded defenders in England.
It was a debut display to be proud of and one Brendan Rodgers will be hoping that he can recreate in future matches throughout his Liverpool career.
It was also a performance which highlighted just how big a task it will be for Southampton to find a replacement for him in their defence, and his departure may have just been the difference between them picking up a result or leaving empty handed, as was the case.
Can Southampton cope without Lovren?