Loris Karius versus Simon Mignolet isn’t the grueling battle that triggers the imagination to run wild nor is it the battle that demands the spotlight, but it is a battle that has turned into a problem. A good problem, a problem this side needs, a problem Liverpool haven’t had for some time and a problem that will benefit this team in the long term.
A history lesson usually unearths positive memories as far as being a Liverpool fan is concerned, but not on this occasion.
The past two seasons, before the arrival of Karius, have seen Mignolet’s number one status challenged mainly by Adam Bogdan. It’s best his Anfield career is left untouched.
Liverpool’s goalkeeping situation during the 2013/2014 and 2014/2015 campaigns consisted of Mignolet fighting off competition from Brad Jones, in relatively comfortable fashion.
Reminiscing over the side’s previous shot-stoppers not only relives the worrying lack of strength in depth, but also just how long Brad Jones was at the club.
Prior to challenging Mignolet for two seasons, the Australian had fought and, more often than not, lost a battle with Pepe Reina between 2010 and 2013.
Hungarian keeper Peter Gulacsi, who currently sits three points clear at top of the Bundesliga with Red Bull Leipzig, rarely threatened as Liverpool’s third choice at either end of the same three year time span.
2012 was the year of Alexander Doni. He ended up making only four appearances for the club, and conceded a penalty and received a red card in only his second Premier League start. It was revealed that the Brazilian had suffered a heart attack that year and therefore later returned to his home country on personal leave.
Looking even further beyond the likes of Jones and Doni, there hasn’t been a time for at least the past decade where this club has seen serious competition for the number one goalkeeping spot.
The regularity in which Reds fans and the media have been forced to question whether Liverpool’s backup goalkeepers can be trusted, is an issue that has finally been addressed.
A squad’s strength in depth in all positions is crucial to any team being successful in modern day football. Adequate replacements for nearly every position can be identified in England’s top sides and Jurgen Klopp has gone some way towards replicating that necessity.
Injuries to outfield players are still undeniably disruptive, but they aren’t as great a worry as they might have been in the past. Klopp has the personnel waiting on the sidelines and developing in the youth teams that gives him plenty of options in the wake of key absentees.
A stronger squad creates greater competition for places and thereby demands improvement, consistency, and quality from every player.
The goalkeeping situation is no different, especially when it comes to Liverpool. Klopp’s ruthlessness demands the option to drop and recall keepers, and to push them to be resilient and to develop their game.
Fans continue to be divided in their opinions on Mignolet, with the Belgian struggling to showcase his worth for any sustained period of time. There is a reason Liverpool bought him for £9million, though, and the introduction of Karius is only going to help him remind everyone of that.
He has lost his place as number one and the only way he wins that back is by performing well. He has the time now to sit back and watch the game as it unfolds, and to realise where he needs to excel in this team.
The response has already begun and he is very clearly working harder than ever in training and refusing to accept his role as a backup. The uncertainty to his game is apparent and a period away from the action could bode well in terms of him recognising and eventually combatting his weaknesses.
Starting fresh means his task at hand is demonstrating the shot-stopping and the reflexes that granted him a move to the club, adding composure to his game and injecting more physicality and intimidation to his approach.
For now, though, it is the time for Karius to repay the faith Klopp has shown in him and to succeed in areas where Mignolet didn’t. Assert that authority needed when defending set pieces, dominate aerial battles, and take no risks.
Neither man qualifies as a ball-playing goalkeeper, and that isn’t a problem. The role of the goalkeeper has undoubtedly evolved, but being able to have an impact with the ball at their feet is still far from being a priority.
It has been a tentative start from Karius but there hasn’t been too much for him to do, so far. The German has shown glimpses of the potential Klopp has seen in him and there have been no significant mistakes.
A run of unspectacular and steady performances is perhaps the best way of him settling down and allowing everyone to forget about him as the ‘new guy’.
Mignolet’s presence promises to increase the speed of the 23-year-old’s progress and drive him to cement his place as Klopp’s first choice.
He has a bright future, which is why fans will let him off conceding a corner from his own horrific goal kick in yesterday’s win over Sunderland. Let’s call it him purposely giving himself the chance to practice playing against set pieces.
If Liverpool are to mount any serious title challenge, the clean sheets have to come on a more regular basis. It’s for that reason, that Karius has an important role to play. Can he succeed in 2016/2017, where his Reds compatriot couldn’t in 2013/2014?