It’s fair to say that the Premier League’s January 2017 transfer window was one of the least exciting in recent memory. One move which did attract the attention and raise plenty of eyebrows, however, was the loaning of Mamadou Sakho from Liverpool to Crystal Palace.
Taking place on transfer deadline day, the loan move seemed to clearly signal that Jurgen Klopp felt Sakho was surplus to requirements at Anfield and, as such, that Dejan Lovren was a better fit for the club. At the time that was a contentious opinion, to say the least, but now that we are approaching the end of the season it’s a good time to investigate whether we can find any clear grounds for Klopp’s decision.
Sakho at Palace
The first thing to look at when assessing whether Sakho would ever have been able to play a part at Liverpool this season is how his loan move to Palace panned out. Had he performed poorly there, after all, Klopp’s decision to favour Dejan Lovren would make obvious and immediate sense.
Short-lived though it has been, however, Sakho’s spell at Palace was far from a failure. After making his debut in February, the Frenchman was instrumental in a string of outstanding defensive displays that saw Palace rise sharply up the league table. So good were Sakho’s performances, in fact, that he was a nominee for the Premier League’s player of the month award for March.
We cannot, therefore, simply close the book on this question by saying that Lovren is the better fit at Liverpool because Sakho can no longer hack it in the Premier League.
Lovren at Liverpool
Okay, so Sakho did well at Palace before his recent injury, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that he would have done the same at Liverpool. That notwithstanding, Klopp’s decision to ship out Sakho could still have been legitimised, too, by consistent, high-quality performances by Dejan Lovren at Anfield.
You would struggle, however, to find a Liverpool fan who believes that is what they’ve seen from the Croat this term. In fact, many dedicated Reds have been left almost pulling their hair out at the up and down nature of the former Southampton man’s form.
Even given all of that, though, Lovren could still be seen as a better fit at Liverpool than Sakho if his style of play melded better with what Klopp wants from his side. It is a stretch, however, to make a case for that, as Lovren and Sakho are very similar centre backs. Both are very good in the air and provide a physical presence on the pitch, and neither are what you could describe as ball playing defenders.
Perhaps, then, one needs to cast their eyes away from the pitch in order to truly assess whether Lovren really is a better fit for Liverpool than Sakho.
Off Field Issues
There are plenty of factors besides on-field performance that could make one player a better fit at a certain club than another. If one player is a better trainer than the other, for instance, or if one has a poor record when it comes to off field discipline, it can make all the difference to how they fit into a manager’s plans.
In the case of Lovren and Sakho, the second of those examples does seem like it may have played a significant role in shaping Jurgen Klopp’s thinking. Sakho, after all, has hit the headlines in recent years for failing a drugs test and for reporting late for both a flight and a medical treatment session during a pre-season tour.
Whilst the failed drugs test was subsequently overturned and it would seem harsh to decide that Sakho has no place at Anfield based on a couple of instances of lateness, those events may be indicative of a wider issue.
Klopp, after all, may have come to feel that he simply cannot trust Sakho to toe the line, and if that is the case, then the more reliable Lovren could indeed be described as being a better fit for the club.