Have Liverpool Finally Sorted Their Goalkeeping Problems?

It seemed like a good idea this, saying that I’d do the piece on the new keeper. I’ve been meaning to give the keeper thing some stick since Wembley, last season. Could never get round to finishing though and by the time I did, we’d announced a new one.

The horse had indeed bolted, no sense being a prat about the stable door. This is supposed to be about Loris Karius and what he’ll bring to Liverpool in the coming season. It’s now on its fifth attempt as I try to make it more Karius and less Mignolet. Unfortunately, Mignolet is important here. He is the yardstick by which the new man will be judged. A low bar, but a bar nonetheless.

After all of the differing opinions as to various squad members and their worth last season, the one position that everyone seemed to agree needed strengthening was the keeper. Mignolet, the man who literally dropped points on at least four occasions last year, gifted Manchester City a goal in the League Cup final that I’d have been embarrassed to concede in the Sunday League, and generally inspires as much confidence in the fans and the team as I do on a Sunday morning with a hangover. I think that was the point, I wanted to feel like our keeper was better than I am for my pub team and this season I never really did. Christ, after Bogdan’s January I felt like asking for a trial. For the record, I’m crap and 35. Anyway, that’s the usual tangent out of the way, time to compare and contrast.

Karius comes with the “shot-stopper” tag around his neck, much as Mignolet did on arrival in 2013. This previous season, the label came off Mignolet in the wash. Conceding from the first shot on target time and again as the season progressed (by the time of the Sunderland home game, it had happened 21 times in 26 games where the team conceded). Not all of these were mistakes, sometimes you doff your cap to a striker and move on. If your unique selling point is shot stopping though, it helps if you do it once in a while.

As for crosses, did anyone watch Simon come to claim something last year without a feeling of dread in the pit of their stomach? I certainly didn’t. Indeed, it was almost worthy of note when he got one right, though I’m not so much of a critic that I’ll give him grief about the point he decided to punch everything. Some of the old lads in the main stand hate punching, but credit where its due, when he landed on it tended to go a fair distance.

In one of the Europa games, he’s come through a crowd to punch the pall out for a throw on half way. Still someone next to me moaned he hadn’t caught it, seemed harsh even by my standards that one. On that wonderful afternoon in Norwich in January, I watched the keepers’ warm-up with interest, John Achterberg crossing the ball in slow looping arcs to Mignolet, firmly rooted under his bar. He only had to move his feet once, a miss-hit that came between penalty spot and six yard line at shoulder height. He still had time for a pie and a pint, but didn’t move quick enough. Electing for a full length, diving punch, he missed it by a yard, landing face down in the Carrow Road turf.

Achterberg still applauded, Danny Ward stifled a laugh, those in the stands to witness worried for what was to come. We let in four that day, in the euphoria of the time that was forgotten in favour of the five we scored and Jurgen getting his glasses broken.

In league games, Opta claim that he cost us 8 points through four mistakes leading to goals. In all four cases we drew the games apparently (Karius apparently made none according to the same source).

With his feet, the Belgian is inconsistent at best. Goal-kicks chipped up to fullbacks on the corner of touchline and halfway, often going out for a throw or putting his team-mate under pressure. There’s a side note here that I will come back to later, but I worry that this is by design. Coached into him, Achterberg again. Vocally, you never hear him in the ground until he’s dropped a knacker. He stays rooted in the centre of his box as if he doesn’t want to be too close to the nasty lads that do all the running and can’t pick the ball up.

The bar is set.
And so to Loris Karius. Not the first name on most people’s lips at the end of last season. Hell, he wasn’t even the first German. People dreaming of Marc-Andre ter Stegen coming over from playing in all of the cups for Barcelona. I’ll confess I’d only heard his name in passing and knew little about him.

Research shows that the usual concern about communication and settling in the country won’t be an issue, he spent two years in Manchester City’s youth team before heading back to Germany to progress into first team football.

He stands two inches shorter than Simon Mignolet’s 6’4”, but seems more athletic for it. Certainly he’s not as flat footed. His starting position is further forward, he seems to want to play the now clichéd “keeper/sweeper” role, which would suit the idea of the team pressing higher and leaving him to patrol the space in front of his box.

At the time of writing, he’s only played half a game against Tranmere so I’m relying on YouTube and a lot of reading to get to an opinion on the rest. The Tranmere game told us nothing, he had the ball in his hands perhaps three times.

Going back through some of Mainz’s games this season, a number of things seem apparent. He’s constantly moving, confident with his feet, his handling seems sure as does his decision making when it comes to punching, and his reflexes are excellent. Look at the away game against Dortmund, despite conceding two, he prevented a cricket score. Your job is shot-stopping? Boxed off. Neither goal his fault. If I’m picking fault, the goal he concedes against Bayern Munich in March this year, looked like he may have been too far to one side to truly cover the far post. That said, still a hell of a strike.

When he makes a save, he seems to get enough on it to send it clear of the six yard box. Something that Mignolet hasn’t always managed to achieve. Out of all of the matches I’ve found, none seem to show him dropping one at someone’s feet.

The overall impression over the course of a good few hours wasted on YouTube, is that he’s a confident, constantly improving, vocal and more than competent keeper. He has continued to improve throughout his career, and is regarded as one of the top three keepers in the Bundesliga.

We should be excited. I am, though tempered with a huge caveat. A caveat born of Tranmere funnily enough. John Achterberg. A lot of the things that are wrong with Mignolet should have been trained out over the last couple of seasons, instead the reverse has happened and more weaknesses have become apparent. I truly hope that I’m wrong and he isn’t the cause. I’d hate to see such promise of a new dawn fizzle out through poor coaching. That said, I can’t blame Achterberg for Mignolet holding the ball against Bordeaux until the referee booked him. By the way, we conceded from that too.

Taking the league games only, Squawka.com gives the following comparative stats; 

Karius – Mignolet 
3 – 3

Games 

34 – 34

Clean Sheets 

9 – 11

Goals per game 

1.24 – 1.24

Saves per goal 

2.10 – 1.27

Claim Success 

96% – 82%

Mignolet keeps more clean sheets in a supposedly better team and league, whilst still conceding the same number of goals. I can’t find stats that confirm the number of shots faced, but the stats look reassuring. I get the feeling that we have bought someone to be a solid foundation for Klopp to impress his pressing style, without fear of the keeper not being (we’ll say kindly) pro-active enough for the task at hand.
I think that the season starts with us seeing Karius as first choice and Mignolet as a reasonable back-up and cup keeper. Provided the rumours of Danny Ward going to Huddersfield are true. All in all, I’m happy with that.

So, here’s to you Loris. Don’t let Achterberg get in your head too much and we’ll be fine mate. Optimism reigns, he’s better than me!

Written by Lee Andrew (@BigLee01)

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