Stick or twist?

 

What is Liverpool’s goalkeeping situation at the end of 17/18?

Reading a scouting report on one Alisson Ramses Becker back in January this year made for very interesting reading indeed.  Italian football experts such as Blair Newman spoke very highly of him and within a few weeks of Liverpool’s interest, Real Madrid also emerged as suitors.  The winter window was open, Van Dijk had just arrived and it was very easy to be eager for a new ‘keeper to be added to the ranks.  However a transfer failed to materialise and four months on Loris Karius has performed well since his re-installation as Liverpool’s number one.  So, what exactly is Liverpool’s next play on this crucial position?

One thing is for certain, Karius is now by far and away superior to his elder competitor. How things change in football!  Upon his belated introduction to the first team last season, it seemed Liverpool had actually downgraded from Simon Mignolet.  Culminating in his late error at Bournemouth in a toe-curlingly embarrassing defeat, the young German looked uncertain, hadn’t made any key saves and overall cut a quiet, timid figure in goal.  Roll on to this present moment though and he looks the polar opposite.  Key saves at big moments, twinned with a more authoritative handling as well as a growing sense of concentration and maturity in certain games where he hasn’t had too much to do.  One interesting observation is how well the ‘keeper has played since Van Dijk has been signed and Robertson installed in the first XI.  It clearly helps to play behind superior and more organised defenders, but credit to the young German the number one spot is his on merit, for now.

Echoes of Simon? 

Simon Mignolet’s Liverpool career since his big money move from Sunderland has sadly been peppered with far too many mistakes and moments where his has been a liability.  Now this article is not going to become a bashing on the Belgian, nor indeed a catalogue of his errors.  No, that would be dull and unfair on a keeper who can claim to have played behind some of the worst defenders this club has had since the heady days of Babb, Piechnick and Kvarme (shudder).

One of the most disappointing aspects of Mignolet’s career however has been the recurring  merry-go-round spells of being dropped and then re-instated.  Rodgers tried it, Klopp has tried it more than once, and it simply hasn’t worked.  Yes, he’s come back and played well for a handful of games, enough to raise hopes that maybe just maybe he’d turned a corner.  His match-winning antics at Stoke and West Brom last season genuinely gave credence to this longing, but the errors were never far away.  And it’s a simple fact that you achieve nothing sustainable with a dodgy ‘keeper.  From James to Westerveld to Kirkland, all were jettisoned after failing to convince they were the long term answer for the club in its quest for the very top honours.

This is where Karius must take heed.  It is simply not enough to look at the last ten league games and four Champions League matches.  Yes there has been significant improvement but the standards expected at this level are relentless.  The German must carry his improved form into the semi-final of clash with Roma and beyond, if he is to have any chance of staking a claim to be Liverpool’s long term number one.  Any Mignolet-like relapse into costly errors between now and the end of the season will surely force the club’s hand in the summer window. Perhaps this will determine his future, if he extends this long awaited consistent spell he will avoid Mignolet’s cyclic spells in and out of the team and really stake a decent claim to be our ‘keeper for the foreseeable.

A new ‘keeper inevitable? 

The aforementioned Champions League tie with Roma next week will be a great chance to look at the Brazilian stopper and compare him to our current number one.  He is strong in on-on-one situations, great off his line and very much a sweeper ‘keeper with wonderful distribution. All box tickers for our current style of play.  He is only in his first full season as number one with Roma though, so some caution should still be applied in any judgement or valuation.  However he is currently keeping Ederson out of the Brazil starting XI and has been a key figure in Roma’s run in the Champions League. He is not quite a shouter however, and that is one thing Karius is starting to do a lot more of. It would be great to see another character in the defensive unit, shouting and marshalling, albeit this is not essential to success in the role. If nothing else, it would seem very likely that Allison would be an upgrade on what we currently have.  And that surely should always be a key question to consider with any first team target.

Another option could be a more experienced deputy added to the ranks to keep Karius on his toes.  If Liverpool do decide to stick with what they have then a senior number two would become very important as the likeable Danny Ward, must surely not be considered a viable option given his regular absence from match day squads this season. Should any unfortunate injuries arise, it would be uninspiring to see the former Aberdeen and Huddersfield loanee lining up in key matches in a season were expectations are going to be swollen and individual errors must be kept at zero.  A more seasoned ‘keeper to handle this pressure could be viewed as a wise and more cost effective investment if money is preferred to be spent on other areas.

Keeping Mignolet seems increasingly unlikely given his age, wage and declining ability. The fact that he recently changed agents suggests that he too can see the writing on the wall.  If he were to stay it could also create tension with Karius, as a regular sub and first team rival would be sat on one hundred grand a week to train and play cup games.  Emre Can’s agent would be fuming!

Whichever option the club goes with during the summer, it does now seem very likely that a new keeper will come and Mignolet’s uninspiring Liverpool career will end with a whimper.  The upgrade option should never be discounted.  However well Karius is playing right now, even it continues to ultimate glory in Kiev, an upgrade in that position must always be the preferred option for Liverpool FC.  Spurs, Chelsea, City and United can all still claim to have a superior option to us in this position, and that is something which must be addressed if the club is finally going to build on a promising season.

 

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