Dejan Lovren has explained where he expects Thursday night’s much-anticipated meeting with Manchester City to be decided.
Liverpool journey to Etihad Stadium as the Premier League leaders having navigated their opening 20 games without defeat and capped off 2018 with a 5-1 rout of Arsenal.
The reigning champions await the Reds at a venue where they were successful on their last visit – a 2-1 victory in the second leg of their Champions League quarter-final last season.
Ahead of the clash, Lovren spoke to Liverpoolfc.com about his and the team’s form, his renewed partnership with Virgil van Dijk, and how a player prepares for a game of such magnitude.
Read the Q&A below…
You’ve had a few days to reflect on the win over Arsenal. Just how impressive a result was it against a top-six team?
When you look, 5-1 is a big result for us and when you see the opponent is Arsenal you appreciate it even more. It’s not so easy to score five goals against Arsenal, especially when they have had a really good run in the last couple of games, but we did it brilliantly. Even when they scored the first goal it didn’t change anything for us and that’s one of the biggest things we did in the game. We haven’t gone 1-0 down many times at Anfield so it was something new for us. The response was brilliant.
Moving forward, could it be helpful for you to have fallen behind and shown you can respond so emphatically, rather than everything always going your way?
It will help us definitely. There will hopefully not be many games where we go 1-0 down but we need to be prepared for everything. We did it last season many times and I think Liverpool are quite famous for comebacks. I think we have learned from our mistakes and we have come back strongly. I just see that we can only improve more.
It’s rare to go through any month with a win in every game, never mind eight in a row. What was the key to such a successful December?
It’s not only December, I would say, it’s all the period we have played well. Even sometimes when we didn’t play well, [like] against Everton, we had the luck, we had the belief and it came back to us again. The key, like I have said many times, is the defensive moments when we don’t have the ball and everyone is working so hard, up front especially. They are the first defenders and we are the last defenders. That’s the key for us.
The manager spoke recently about the remarkable 2018 you had. Clearly there were disappointments in finals but do you look back with pride?
I look back on it with a lot of pride. It was a big year for me personally and it was also a fantastic year for Liverpool. We qualified for the Champions League and we reached the final. The only problem is we didn’t win anything – but the good thing is you have a new challenge every year and there are so many games and so many trophies you can win. The most important thing is to stay normal, go game by game and I always say next year will be better.
How are the legs feeling? Talk us through the challenges of having so little time to recover between matches – and such massive ones, too…
In previous years it was really tough. The schedule was so tight last year especially, when we played Leicester City and then two days later we had Burnley and managed to win. This year we have a little bit more space but it doesn’t change anything. What we have is a big squad, a squad the manager wanted because he knows in this period of time you need to take as many points as possible and to use all of your players. This is what we have and at the moment it has worked quite well.
Do you feel a bit fresher than most after coming back into the team later in the season?
Yes. I am a little bit fresher, of course, but it’s about everyone who is ready to fight and to play for the team. There is no fatigue – fatigue is only in your mind. That’s the main thing that you need to understand, and with us it’s more about our character.
You’re back alongside Virgil van Dijk in central defence, who has now completed his first year at Liverpool. Can you sum up the impact he has had?
It was a brilliant year for him. He came in the winter time, which is the most difficult schedule for any player to adapt quite quickly, and he managed to do it unbelievably well. He managed to get to the final of the Champions League, he has had a brilliant start to this season, and he will be here for many years. Hopefully he can improve every year better and better.
Each partnership on the pitch is different, so how does yours work with him? Do you have set responsibilities you each take or does it change per game?
No. There are not too many differences, it’s more about individual skills, like Virgil has. It’s not only Virgil, everyone has their own style of play – Joe [Gomez] and Joel [Matip], me – so it’s more about the adaptation and who goes with who well.
It’s Manchester City next up then. We know you approach every game the same but the size and attention on this one must make it one of the biggest of your Liverpool career?
It’s Manchester City and you need to respect them, especially with what they achieved last year. They broke a record with the points and it’s so tough in the Premier League to win almost every game and to stay unbeaten. It will be a big challenge for us but we are ready for it. We played many times against them last year, they know us and we know them, so it will be a massive game, enjoyable to watch, enjoyable to play and let’s see who will win.
What goes through a player’s mind before matches like these? Is a touch of nerves a good thing or do you go in with complete confidence?
I would say it’s a mix of both. You have the confidence, not the stress about what will happen, but you cannot wait for the game to start. We want to play now and just to see these three points in your pocket would be, of course, a big thing. We know how difficult it is to play against Manchester City, we did it last year in the Champions League, and we know what we can expect.
There’s obviously mutual respect between the sides but Liverpool had the edge over the four meetings in 2018. So do you travel there with not just confidence but belief you will get a positive result?
We are a team who always wants to win. Is it possible to win? It is if you are in the right mood, with the right attitude to battle on every corner of the pitch, and defend quite well. With all of that you need to have the luck, but Manchester City will not say: ‘Take the three points.’ It doesn’t go like that and it will be a massive game for both teams.
How much of the task will be about being brave in your decision-making and not allowing City to dictate things?
When we need to defend, we will defend; when we have the ball, we will have the ball; everything depends on the situation at that moment. Last year we were 1-0 down in the Champions League against City but we managed to come back. We kept our nerves and again it will be a big challenge for us. We don’t know what we can expect but we are ready for everything.