Ever since the departure of Pepe Reina, Liverpool have failed to find a suitable replacement for the Spanish stopper and have been forced to settle for Simon Mignolet. However, there may be hope on the horizon for Liverpool fans as a wonderful performance from 2016 signing Loris Karius against Tottenham may have signaled a possible changing of the guard for the Reds’ man between the sticks.
Following last weekend’s blockbuster of a game, both Liverpool and Tottenham can grab many takeaways from their controversial 2 – 2 draw. Whether it be Wanyama’s thunderbolt of a goal, Salah’s (almost) show-stopping performance, Kane’s landmark 100th Premier League goal, or the elephant in the room, the multiple crucial and contentious referee decisions, there was something to be remembered in this game for everyone. However, the one huge, yet overlooked takeaway was the performance of Loris Karius.
The Liverpool keeper collected a season high 4 saves against Mauricio Pochettino’s men. While not exactly the highest number of saves you’ll see in a game, it was the quality rather than the quantity of the saves that is important here. The most notable saves include a brave one-on-one against a full speed Heung-Min Son charging into the box, a free Harry Kane header from just inside 12 yards, and a potential game-winning penalty save against the now league goal centurion.
The 24-year-old German was signed in the summer of 2016 from FSV Mainz 05 for a measly £4.7 million after a breakout season for Jurgen Klopp’s former side. Voted the second-best goalkeeper in the Bundesliga by his peers, finishing only behind one Manuel Neuer, Loris Karius was looking like the next star produced from Germany’s long production line of goalkeeping talent; a potential star that Klopp couldn’t resist.
The young keeper failed to nail down a starting place in his debut season at Anfield after a number of disappointing showings, but lucky for him, Klopp has not given up on him yet. Unconventionally rotating between Karius and the inconsistent Simon Mignolet this season, Klopp has finally come out and decided to give the former Mainz man a run of games as Liverpool’s number one. The debate of who should start in goal for Liverpool has been a divisive topic ever since Karius walked through the doors of Melwood. Should Klopp settle for Mignolet or should he gamble on Karius? After undoubtedly his best performance in a Liverpool shirt, the German netminder has made one huge step towards unifying opinion; he is Liverpool’s number one.
Why Mignolet should not start
Despite opting to keep the promising Danny Ward at Anfield this season, Klopp has made it a clear point that the two main candidates for the spot of first choice keeper are Loris Karius and Simon Mignolet.
Karius’ first team competitor joined the club in the summer of 2013 and began his life at Anfield with aplomb. Immediately called into action on his debut, the big Belgian made an equally huge double save from the spot in the 89th minute to seal a narrow 1-0 win against Stoke City. Many fans hoped that such a dream start would signal the start of a long and bright future with Mignolet between the sticks, but they would quickly come to learn that their future would be nearly nothing of the same.
If the word ‘inconsistency’ embodied any player, it would be Simon Mignolet. Constantly switching between ‘Liverpool’s number one for years to come’ and ‘the amazing walking and talking blooper reel’ like a bored kid switching through TV channels, the Belgian international has failed to consistently convince the Anfield faithful that he should stay in goal.
Although he is excellent at saving from the penalty spot and his shot-stopping skills are world class on his day, there are far too many holes in Mignolet’s game for him to continue on as the starting keeper for Liverpool. His biggest flaws, however, lie in his distribution and his command of the area.
While his distribution numbers over the years do not show any significant weakness in his game, averaging a respectable pass success rate in the mid-60s, anyone who has ever watched Liverpool play on a regular basis knows how uncomfortable the former Sunderland keeper is on the ball and how poor his distribution can be. The Belgian has always been reluctant to be in possession of the ball and there is much evidence of this. In fact, midway through his Liverpool career it become almost a running joke around Anfield to sarcastically cheer whenever Mignolet successfully played the ball out of the back. From unnecessarily booting the ball up the field to horribly misplacing a throw or pass, Mignolet has never exuded confidence when in possession; a character trait that may prove to be the weakness that sees him out of the side for good.
The biggest crux in Mignolet’s game is undoubtedly his ability to command his area. If you were to pull up a video of all of the Belgian’s mistakes in a Liverpool shirt, nearly all of them would be of him mishandling some sort of cross or long ball into the box. Far too often he is seen misjudging a situation and/or weakly flapping at a cross. As the big man in the box who has the massive advantage of using his hands, there should be no hesitation for him to come out and either claim the ball or punch it out of danger; even if opting to not come out, he should be confident enough in himself to stick to his decision and stay. The other half of this compilation of mistakes is most likely him being caught out in no man’s land – the space in a goalkeeper’s area that is just far enough off his line where he is not close enough to the man on the ball to effectively challenge and not close enough to his line to provide any safety – and promptly punished.
Making over 200 appearances for the Merseysiders, it is safe to say we have a pretty good sample size to judge Mignolet on. After 5 seasons of highs and lows, we know Mignolet’s strengths, weaknesses, and tendencies; the main takeaway is that we know he is not the man who should be protecting Liverpool’s goal for the years to come.
Why Karius is Liverpool’s future
The man who should be in between the sticks at Anfield is Loris Karius. Although he had a conspicuous start to his Liverpool career, the man from Mainz has all the tools he needs to succeed on Merseyside. The German is a very confident young keeper who is a fine shot-stopper, quick off his line, comfortable and confident on the ball, and growing stronger in the air – nearly all traits that his closest competitor does not possess.
Karius’ biggest strength and advantage over Mignolet is his ability as a sweeper keeper. While on the ball Mignolet resembles a nervy, fidgety character who has never dribbled with a ball before, Karius resembles just another outfield player comfortably passing around the back like he is at the park with his mates. The German keeper is not afraid to ask for the ball and play risky passes out of the back in an attempt to maintain possession. While such a tendency may sometimes lead to embarrassing and costly errors, poor decision making in these situations is something that tends to be naturally ironed out with experience.
In addition to his natural affinity for the ball, Karius is extremely quick off his line to sweep up any danger. Add on the excellent one-on-one abilities he showcased in Mainz to this skillset and you’ve got yourself just about the perfect goalkeeper for Jurgen Klopp’s system. Klopp’s gung-ho approach to the game often leaves his defenders high and dry on the counter, so a keeper who can effectively rush out and smother out any danger on his own is a must for this system. While Liverpool has possession such a player is valuable because when the Reds push up high and attempt to suffocate the opposition in their own half, it is good to have a keeper comfortable on the ball higher up the field as an emergency outlet if they need to restart the attack from the back.
Karius has shown himself capable of performing the latter duty well, but he has been subject to criticism for the former as well as his shot-stopping – particularly last season. The spotlights of Anfield seemed to shine a tad too bright for the young German in his debut season as a number of underwhelming performances and high-profile mistakes saw him lose his place to his Belgian rival. Karius has since acknowledged his first season struggles in an interview with the club’s official website and has expressed his desire to hit the heights he did in Germany… and then some.
“I didn’t have an easy first season with a bit of a struggle and injuries. Now I want to prove myself, do better than last season and win the shirt back. It was a new experience for me, with a lot to learn. Even in the negative spell, I took positives out of it and learned a lot that was new to me. I feel strong mentally and also on the pitch. I want to prove myself.”
Such confidence and determination is just what you want to see from a young player, and if recent performances are anything to go by, then he most certainly has taken in all criticism seriously and learned from it. He has shown his maturity and understanding of what his role in a recent interview saying:
“If you don’t do something 100% right it weighs a lot heavier than for other goalies at smaller clubs who have several more saves to make in a game. That’s life at a big club like Liverpool and you have to deal with it.”
However, one of the key aspects of the custodian’s game that sets him apart from Mignolet that is also steadily becoming more apparent is his command of the area. The German is easily the more aggressive of the two when it comes to dealing with danger in his box. Whether or not it is the correct decision, Karius commits and shows an eagerness to do so. Admittedly not possessing the safest of hands, the young keeper has shown a penchant for punching the ball instead and it shows. Despite playing 12 less games than the Belgian, Karius only has 1 less punch (7) and 8 less high claims (6) than his goalkeeping compatriot.
However, the young German is not guilt-free himself after making his own share of blunders from crosses. One ‘mistake’ has recently been highlighted by the media. In the build-up to Victor Wanyama’s goal at the weekend, Karius opted to punch a cross out of the area instead of letting it go or attempting to catch it. Unfortunately for the German, his clearance did not go as far as intended and landed just outside the box for the Kenyan powerhouse to unleash a pile diver into the top corner.
Although this example was not so much his fault, he is admittedly still prone to errors in judgement due to his inexperience. This is why Karius needs more minutes to prove himself and develop further as a player because he is still very young. 24 years of age is already considered young for an outfield player, but for a goalkeeper, he might as well still be using training wheels as keepers do not tend to hit their prime until their 30s as it an experience-centered position. Not to mention, we have such a small sample size to judge him on as opposed to Mignolet who has over 200 appearances for the Reds versus Karius’ 30.
We know what Simon Mignolet is: a good goalkeeper capable of producing big game-saving moments and equally big game-losing moments. However, we do not have a full picture of what Loris Karis is, although we do know what he can be: a strong, confident sweeper keeper capable of nullifying high-quality chances. All the pieces are there for the German to be a success at Anfield. Now it is simply a matter of whether or not Karius can kick on from his strong performance against Tottenham and show to his critics that Klopp was right to give him a second chance and solidify his place as Liverpool’s number one.