As soon as the words were uttered, as soon as the suggestion Liverpool could go the whole Premier League season unbeaten was made, the rod was forged for Dejan Lovren’s back.
The Croatian should have been more coy, but this wasn’t the first time he’d tempted fate in such a way.
Lovren labelled himself “one of the world’s best defenders” just days before the World Cup final, when France would stick five goals past Croatia.
This time, the centre back’s bullish prediction of an unbeaten league season for Liverpool was followed, just one day later, by their first defeat, a damaging loss to title rivals Manchester City in which Lovren was highly culpable.
He lost Sergio Aguero for City’s opener, allowing the Argentinian to fire home at the near post when the marking should have been much tighter.
Lovren’s poor positioning also contributed to Leroy Sane’s winning goal, with the Croatian also making a number of decisions that very nearly caused Liverpool to concede a third goal.
Virgil Van Dijk lost his cool with his defensive partner late on, as Lovren shelled a long ball straight back into Man City possession with time running out. The Dutchman reflected the mood of many Liverpool fans who must have felt a familiar sense of exasperation at Lovren’s performance.
2018 was the best year of Lovren’s professional career. There was a point towards the end of last season where he appeared to have forged a solid understanding with Van Dijk.
The Croatian was a key member of Liverpool’s team as they made the Champions League final. And yet in that game against Real Madrid in Kiev Lovren was out of his depth.
Lovren’s display against Man City, in Liverpool’s biggest league game for a generation, followed a familiar pattern. When it matters most, he falters. It was the same in the Champions League final, in the World Cup final for Croatia and on Thursday night at the Etihad.
Liverpool will never win a league title as long as they have to rely on Lovren.
Of course, Lovren is only in the first team right now following an injury to Joe Gomez. Had Gomez been fit for Thursday night, the outcome might have been very different.
Liverpool may well have been within touching distance of their first league championship in 29 years.
A lack of squad depth in defence has let Liverpool down. Gomez and Van Dijk have become the best centre back pairing in the Premier League this season, but with one of them out (in this case Gomez) the defensive vulnerability that dogged the Reds last term has returned.
It’s no coincidence that Thursday night saw Liverpool concede twice in a Premier League game for the first time since April.
The January transfer window offers Liverpool a chance to address this issue. Klopp was ruthless enough to cast aside Loris Karius after his blunders cost Liverpool last season.
Now, he must be just as ruthless with Lovren.
He is not good enough to play for a title-winning side and Liverpool must find a replacement.
In his four years at Anfield, Lovren, alongside fellow Premier League jesters Marouane Fellaini and David Luiz, has become something of a figure of fun. Not for Liverpool fans, though.
He has become a figure of exasperation, frustration and ire for those who have to watch him week in, week out.
Lovren isn’t as bad as some make out, but there is no denying his vulnerability when it comes to big games. As the Reds continue to grow and improve further under Klopp, there will be more big games, like the one on Thursday night.
If Liverpool can’t count on Lovren to perform on these occasions, does he really deserve his place?