By Greachain O’Ceallaigh
Liverpool’s goalkeeping duel between the newly-signed Loris Karius and veteran Simon Mignolet is reaching a decision point. The highly rated young German goalkeeper has made a rapid recovery from a pre-season hand injury. Karius recently made his competitive debut in the League Cup win against Derby County. Mignolet, in the meantime, has reigned as the number one ‘keeper unopposed until now. Jürgen Klopp now has a goalkeeping selection conundrum.
Karius was rated the second best goalkeeper in the Bundesliga last season. Before making the switch from FSV Mainz to Anfield, fellow professionals in the German top flight rated only Manuel Neuer higher. This is elite company for a 22-year-old goalkeeper to be rated alongside. Neuer has been one of the stand-out goalkeepers in world football for the past few seasons.
The Bayern Munich stopper has revolutionised the goalkeeping position with his sweeper-like skills and brilliant saves. Comparisons between Karius and Neuer are evident. Both like to push out beyond their box when their team is attacking; both are very comfortable on the ball whether passing the ball short or distributing it long. Karius, like Neuer, can read the game, mopping up many counter attacks simply by good starting positioning and anticipation of danger. Karius is also an excellent shot stopper, as evidenced by his almost six out of ten penalties saved rate.
Mignolet ended last season as the undisputed Liverpool number one. His banner season since joining the Reds was the thrilling title challenge in 2013-14. Even in that brilliant season, questions arose over his all-round game.
Mignolet has shown superb reflexes at times and he kept the most clean sheets in the Premier League in 2015. The Belgian international has faced criticism for his shakiness under the high ball, and also his command of the defence.
Liverpool’s defence over the last three seasons has been far from solid, and Mignolet at times perhaps unfairly bore more of the blame than the unit as a whole. Klopp was ruthless in addressing this by discarding players like Jose Enrique, Martin Skrtel and Kolo Toure. Importantly, Klopp also purchased Karius.
For the first time perhaps since Brad Friedel and David James battled to be the Reds’ first choice ‘keeper, there is genuine competition for the number one spot. Mignolet currently holds sway as the starter so far in the Premier League, but Karius has stated his determination to claim the starting role.
Both stoppers are competitive and it will come down to fine margins as to who Klopp entrusts as his main keeper. Karius does have in his favour the fact that Klopp personally signed him, and also his kicking/sweeping ability. The starting team sheet for the game against Hull City this coming weekend will be telling. Whoever is named as the goalkeeper in that game may also be the long-term winner of the goalkeeping duel.