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Cocksure Dejan Lovren must build on Croatia exploits for Liverpool

Cocksure Dejan Lovren must build on Croatia exploits for Liverpool

ESPN

Joe Hart and Oleksander Zinchenko were among the Manchester City players flying to the United States for the International Champions Cup despite their uncertain futures at the club.

Hart, the former England goalkeeper, has spent the last two seasons on loan -- first with Torino, then West Ham United -- and has not featured in a game for City since August 2016.

The 31-year-old, who was left out of the World Cup squad, wants a permanent move away from City but was a surprise inclusion when the squad left for Chicago on Tuesday.

Zinchenko, 21, is also part of the touring squad despite strong interest from newly promoted clubs Wolverhampton Wanderers and Fulham.

The Ukraine international impressed as an emergency left-back last season after Benjamin Mendy tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee and missed seven months.

But with Mendy back to full fitness, Zinchenko's first-team opportunities could be restricted this season.

Riyad Mahrez, who joined from Leicester City last week, was also on the flight, ready for his club debut in the friendly with Borussia Dortmund at Soldier Field on Friday. Aymeric Laporte, Claudio Bravo and Phil Foden also made the trip.

Germany winger Leroy Sane will join up with the squad when they land in the U.S. and Patrick Roberts, Jack Harrison and Jason Denayer, who spent last season on loan, are also travelling.

Manager Pep Guardiola was not expecting any of his World Cup players to join up with the squad but has been boosted by the news that Mendy and Portugal international Bernardo Silva will join the tour later next week.

Silva will be in New York ahead of the clash with Liverpool, and Mendy, who has played just 260 minutes for City and France this year because of his injury, will be in Miami ahead of the final game against Bayern Munich.

Who was the pre-tournament favourite to be the last Liverpool player standing in the World Cup? Brazil's Roberto Firmino, perhaps?

As it transpired Croatia's Dejan Lovren survived the longest. A 4-2 defeat against France in the final took some wind out of his sails, after an amusing but ill-timed self-assessment of his talents. 

His club manager Jurgen Klopp was also amused. He didn't exactly call Lovren the Miles Davis of own-trumpet-blowers but it wasn't far off. He didn't disagree with his assessment, however.

It must be hard for any player to suppress a roar of vindication after another season when one's abilities were derided several times, yet he probably should've kept quiet.

He didn't perform badly in the final but France were too good in the end. Lovren had plenty to say about that too, the Croatian never knowing when to keep quiet.

Liverpool fans are used to it. It's often Lovren who speaks loudest when he and the Reds are going well, and it's almost always followed by a karmic bad result.

As to the validity of his claims, anyone who appears in Champions League and World Cup finals within a few months must have something going for them.

Perhaps not as much as Raphael Varane, a winner in both games, but then "not as good as Varane" can still be pretty good surely? Lovren can reasonably claim both finals were settled by two gift goals which were nothing to do with him in either case.

Whatever the general verdict on Lovren is, his club manager is clearly an admirer. When he looks at his first-choice XI, Klopp sees bigger weaknesses than central defence.

It's intriguing the Reds are being linked to Lovren's partner in Croatia's defence, Domagoj Vida of Besiktas. This was happening even before Vida impressed in Russia. Any fee will need to be bigger now.

Central defence is possibly the most important partnership on the pitch. Having a duo that also plays together at international level would be an advantage in terms of understanding.

The one small problem is Virgil van Dijk. Liverpool clearly didn't spend so much money on the Dutchman for him to alternate with Vida and Lovren.

This is another area where Klopp needs strength in depth and Vida would provide that. Joel Matip sometimes plays well but is injured a lot, while Ragnar Klavan was always a last resort despite performing better than expected sometimes.

Doubtful opinions about Lovren himself are based on his four seasons at Anfield overall, rather than recent form. Improvement is obvious, though there's still a tendency to stumble badly on occasion.

Mistakes seem to cling to Liverpool players far longer than those from other clubs. Steven Gerrard fell over against Chelsea four years ago. He's left for the United States, retired and taken up management with Glasgow Rangers since then but opposition fans still sing about him.

Lovren had a nightmare against Harry Kane and Tottenham last October. He was so bad Klopp hauled him off after 30 minutes.

This filtered into the analysis of the World Cup semifinal between England and Croatia, partially explaining Lovren's bumptious celebrations and media quotes afterwards.

This may be the first summer where fans won't feel replacing Lovren is a priority, perhaps satisfied by the purchase of Van Dijk. Liverpool only conceded 13 league goals after the Dutchman's arrival, in contrast to the 25 conceded beforehand.

There were still problematic games, like the Champions League semifinal with Roma where Liverpool couldn't efficiently shut down either game. With big money spent on central midfielders Naby Keita and Fabinho, it looks like Klopp intends to protect the defence a little better than previously while hoping Lovren/Van Dijk continue to fuse into a reasonable partnership.

If and when the time came to find better than Lovren, it probably means Liverpool are continuing to improve and need the best in every position. That prospect is quite a way off, however.

The plan then would be for better players to be bought while current players drop back into squad mode. Nice in theory, but difficult in practise.

What if the likes of Lovren simply didn't want to play second fiddle? As one of the best in the world -- his words, and his manager currently concurs -- it's more likely he'd seek a new club.

Herein lies the problem for Klopp going forward. Liverpool need an even stronger squad now, which could mean clashing egos and discontent behind the scenes. Even the hugging, ever-grinning German may find it difficult to keep everyone content.

Lovren played well for Croatia, in a side that worked hard and remained focussed on being tight and organised at the back.

The attacking nature of his club side presents a greater challenge for any defender. This is where his mettle will continue to be tested but you can't say he lacks confidence.

ESPN