Sunday 21 December 2014

Delighted Brendan Rodgers hails Lovren as the 'new Carragher'

Liverpool 4 B Dortmund 0

Chris Bascombe

Published 11/08/2014 | 02:30

Raheem Sterling of Liverpool and Kevin Grosskreutz of Borussia Dortmund battle for the ball
Raheem Sterling of Liverpool and Kevin Grosskreutz of Borussia Dortmund battle for the ball
Philippe Coutinho of Liverpool and Lukasz Piszczek of Borussia Dortmund battle for the ball

BRENDAN RODGERS believes that Liverpool have finally found the ideal replacement for Jamie Carragher by signing Dejan Lovren.

Lovren marked his first appearance at Anfield since arriving for £20m from Southampton with a headed goal in the Reds' friendly win over Borussia Dortmund.

Daniel Sturridge, Philippe Coutinho and Jordan Henderson were also among the goalscorers in an ideal final warm-up fixture for Rodgers' side.

The Liverpool manager opted for the centre-half pairing of Lovren and Martin Skrtel, his preferred choice at the start of the season, and he says the Croatian showed why the Merseyside club were so determined to sign him, comparing him to the Anfield legend who retired in 2013.

"Dejan was perfect," said Rodgers.

"He is exactly what I've been looking for since Jamie Carragher left.

"He is a dominant, number one centre-half, who reads the game well, offers good guidance to the back four and the rest of the team – and shows his qualities of range of passing too. You saw with the pass to Coutinho in the build-up to the first goal.

"Just like he showed against us last year, he's dominant in the box – both in ours and the opposition's – and I thought he was excellent."

Rodgers has often complained about a lack of leadership in his defence, the back four proving the Achilles' heel in an otherwise exceptional title challenge last season.

Lovren's arrival inevitably raises uncertainty over the future of Daniel Agger and Kolo Toure, while Mamadou Sakho – the French international who cost £18m last summer – has never fully convinced the Liverpool manager he is the solution.

Rodgers, however, says the selection problems are welcome after two years where his starting XI was predictable and options from the bench extremely limited.

"The pleasing thing is I can make changes and still feel we are strong, which hasn't been the case since I have been here because of the depth," he said.

"The changes are still maintaining the desire, depth and quality in the team. With a couple more to come, we should have the depth to challenge."

Liverpool's victory was built on the brilliance of Coutinho, who created the first for Sturridge and scored early in the second half.

As Liverpool seek to fill the void left by Luis Suarez's transfer, the Brazilian is an early front-runner for replacing the Uruguayan as the Kop's most popular current player.

"Coutinho is so gifted as a player and the fans appreciate it because of the level of the opponent," Rodgers said.

"His ability is just magical, his ability to get out of tight situations, his view of the game. His best position is playing between the lines, where he tempts defenders out.

"His development is all about sustainability. He's come into the country and lit it up with his quality.

MAGICAL

"Now, he will have the chance to do that on the big stage in the Champions League and I think he will. He will show at that level he is a top player.

"I really see him over the next four or five years being a real talent in world football for Liverpool and Brazil. He is just magical to watch."

Coutinho said being left out of Brazil's World Cup squad was motivating him to take his game to another level, claiming he felt "anger" at his omission from the tournament.

"Not because I'm selfish, but because I could have offered something," Coutinho said. "I'm going to use this anger and push myself to my limits. I saw how Luis (Suarez) was a maniac in training. At this point, my body and mind feel like clay. I will mould it the way I envision, and I will use my fire to make them harder.

"I'm working closely with (trainer) Pedro Philippou and (physiotherapist) Ryland Morgans. I look at my team-mates too. I work with Joe (Allen) sometimes to see how he uses his body to protect the ball. He's amazing at it."

Rodgers is convinced that he can lead the club to a Premier League title – perhaps as soon as this season.

Liverpool were in pole position for last season's title until Steven Gerrard's costly slip gifted Chelsea victory at Anfield and, when they then let a three-goal lead slip against Crystal Palace, it allowed Manchester City to take the eventual honours.

The loss of Suarez, sold to Barcelona after being banned from football for four months for biting an opponent while on World Cup duty with Uruguay, has many observers predicting a Reds regression this season. But the ever-upbeat Rodgers has no doubts.

"I wasn't lying on a sun lounger on a beach over the summer crying and fretting over the fact that we lost the league," he said.

"There is only an excitement and a belief inside the club that we can challenge again for the title this time.

"We proved last season that we can handle the pressure of a title run-in. I know people will point to the Chelsea and Crystal Palace games, but they should look instead at our last 14 games.

"Twelve wins, one draw, one defeat. That kind of form usually wins you the title. So I know we can cope with the pressure. What we didn't get was that wee bit of luck you need along the way.

"We just didn't get the breaks when we needed them most, but I believe that we will be back up there, challenging, and Liverpool Football Club is a very exciting place to be at this current time.

"Last season was a great step forward and now we must believe that we can go one better.

"If it doesn't happen this year, then it will happen soon. I really believe that because of what we're building at the club."

Liverpool, watched by Southampton manager Ronald Koeman ahead of their opening game against his side on Sunday, will attempt to sign Sevilla left-back Alberto Moreno and a striker before the end of the month. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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