Who should be Liverpool’s No.1?
Posted by Louis Jacques | Published on November 6, 2016
Who should be Liverpool’s No.1? It’s a question most fans posed themselves at the start of the season, but after initial scrutiny, most fans and pundits alike came to the conclusion that newcomer Loris Karius would pip Simon Mignolet to the no.1 spot on the teamsheet. After having impressed Jurgen Klopp in his initial training sessions and keeping four successive clean sheets in pre-season against the likes of Tranmere, Wigan and Huddersfield, he sustained a broken hand after accidentaly clashing with teammate Dejan Lovren during Liverpool’s 1-0 International Champions Cup defeat to Chelsea. Having played only five games for his new club, Loris Karius was sidelined for approximately eight weeks, missing the end of pre season and the start of the new premier league season. Although his injury setback was eventually shorter than anticipated, it meant that former Liverpool No.1, Simon Mignolet, was called up for the rest of Liverpool’s pre-season and the first five games of the Premier league season, giving him a last chance to prove himself, and perhaps reverse Klopp’s decision. However, despite saving a penalty in Liverpool’s 4-3 win over Arsenal, he conceded eight goals in five Premier League games and kept zero clean sheets, ultimately reducing him to the bench after Loris Karius’ long-awaited return from injury.
Since Karius’ return, it hasn’t been as perfect for Jurgen Klopp as he might’ve hoped. Despite having conceded five goals in as many games, and keeping a clean sheet, Loris Karius has come under scrutiny for making easily avoidable mistakes and errors, leading to some fans labeling him as more “error prone” than the already shaky Simon Mignolet. Despite Jurgen Klopp’s adamance to stick with Loris Karius (as he said ahead of Liverpool’s EFL cup victory against Spurs, where Mignolet started for the first time in five games), it is still worth comparing them, and having played five games each this season, it seems like the perfect time to pit them against each other, and decide who Liverpool’s first choice between the sticks should be.
One of the main problems both fans, pundits and the Liverpool Coaching team had with Simon Mignolet was his lack of ability to deal with set pieces, of which Liverpool have conceded more than any other team in the league apart from Swansea since Jurgen Klopp’s arrival. This flaw was something Karius was expected to cover, as in the 2015/16 season, Karius completed more catches and saves than his Belgian counterpart, who, in turn, opted for more punches and made twice as many defensive errors per game. However, this season, it’s quite the different story. We can see through stats that the tables have turned on the 23-year old German, who has completed more than three times fewer catches and has made fewer saves per goal than Mignolet, who seems to be making up for his mistakes from last season, after having committed not a single defensive error this season.
Another issue to be discussed is the two keepers’ confidence on the ball. While we can’t measure confidence, we can observe and I’ll point out that whereas last season Karius made longer passes and opted for fewer clearances than Mignolet, this year it’s quite the opposite, with Mignolet also achieving a higher pass completion than Karius, a sign of confidence and ability to fit into Klopp’s footballing system, that requires his players to be comfortable with the ball. While it may seem that Karius is the surprise pick this year because of all the positive statistics from Mignolet I have chosen to show you, it’s impossible to ignore the positive from the young goalkeeper. He’s vastly improved his pass completion from last year, and both this season and last completed more passes overall. He has a much higher distribiton accuracy and opts to punch the ball less than Mignolet, and boasts a higher average distribution length, all characteristics carried over from last season.
So, Karius or Mignolet?
The simple answer is Karius. Although Mignolet edges Karius on certain aspects of the necessary goalkeeping technique to play Jurgen Klopp football, and Karius has lost out on certain aspects of his game that used to be his strong points, he’s doing well for himself. We shouldn’t get ahead of ourselves and rotate the team’s goalkeeper every five games because of form, as that would damdge the team’s solidity as a unit, and would give the keepers too little time on the pitch to work on their game progressively. We also have to remind ourselves that Loris Karius is quite young, in fact he’s barely 23, a whole five years younger than Simon Mignolet, and the same age David De Gea was when he completed his first full season for Manchester United, and was subsequently also criticized for his lack of composure and his knack of being error-prone in silly situations, however since then he as become one of the league’s, and the world’s best goalkeepers. But there is no need for comparisons with world-class players, as a young player’s career can go in any direction. It just all goes to show that although Karius hasn’t hit the ground running, he hasn’t crashed. He may not be showing the same composure and authority in front of goal as he did last season, but we’re only five games in, and it’s unreasonable to call his performances “underwhelming” or quite simply “bad”, as although they have thus far been unremarkable, they have been nothing less than that, which is the case with many transfers in modern football.
By Louis (@Mertxns)