Ahead of Liverpool’s clash against Tottenham this weekend there’s one overbearing issue with regards to team selection that will no doubt be on the mind of Jürgen Klopp, that issue being; who should start between the sticks against Spurs this Saturday?
Although Klopp tends to avoid making changes week after week, especially when it comes to keepers, his choice of shot-stopper this weekend does bear some thinking about.
While Mignolet enjoyed some fine form earlier in the season following the arrival of German keeper Loris Karius, the big Belgian has endured some pain-staking performances of late. The most recent such game coming in the 2-0 defeat to Hull last week.
In spite of the entire team playing a much laboured game of football against the Tigers, the fingers of many fans were pointing squarely at Simon Mignolet for Liverpool’s fourth loss of this Premier League campaign. The Belgian keeper was at fault for Hull’s opener as he fumbled the ball at the feet of Alfred N’Diaye, allowing the hosts to stifle Liverpool on their way to a 2-0 win.
Undoubtedly Mignolet could have done better at Hull, as he has shown his quality on a number of occasions this season, lest we forget the 1-1 draw against Chelsea not seven days prior.
Were it not for Mignolet that game Liverpool may not have evaded another agonising defeat and while a 1-1 draw is far from the most glamorous of results, it certainly tops a loss at the hands of the league leaders.
With the Tottenham game looming, a match that could well sway the outcome of our entire season, fans are calling for a change between the sticks as Mauricio Pochettino’s men come to town.
In the League Cup semi-final tie against Southampton, Loris Karius was a standout performer for Liverpool, let down by lacklustre defending, the 23-year-old German was forced to make some sensational saves to keep the Reds in the tie, although it wasn’t enough to see Liverpool through in the end.
Fast forward to the FA Cup tie against Wolves and Karius was a shadow of the man who denied the Saints on so many occasions on his previous outings. The young German failed to claim a tame free kick inside the first minute against Wolves and paid the price, conceding what would be the decisive goal on the day.
My prediction: Klopp will take a gamble and play Karius for the first time in the Premier League since the 4-3 defeat at Bournemouth. This move will allow Mignolet to recover from a few shaky performances and perhaps return to the first team later this season.
However, Mignolet is far from a permanent solution for the Red’s goalkeeper woes as, between both goalkeepers Liverpool have at their disposal, it seems at this moment neither are consistent enough to assume the role as a permanent number one. It’s been an issue that has plagued Liverpool since Brendan Rodger’s decided Pepe Reina’s time at Anfield had run its course, quite simply the Spaniard hasn’t been properly replaced and it has shown for the past three-and-a-half seasons.
But does the answer for Liverpool’s ongoing keeper issues lie beyond the club? I would argue that they don’t with regards to the roster of shot stoppers at our disposal. As a result of some poor outings it has been all to easy to label Karius a flop (thoughts of David de Gea come to mind) he’s still a new signing settling in to life in a foreign country following his switch from Mainz in the summer. Really it’s far, far too early to write off Karius.
In the 2015/16 season Karius was a standout performer, not just at Mainz, but across the entirety of the Bundesliga. Nominated for Bundesliga’s team of the season last year alongside Timo Horn, Bernd Leno and Manuel Neuer (Neuer won, because of course he did), Loris Karius ascertained his status as a premier keeper in one of Europe’s top leagues by no accident. Keeping 9 clean sheets and averaging 2.5 saves per game, the young German was a major factor in Mainz’s top 6 finish, seeing them qualify for the Europa League.
A player of that caliber does not simply suffer such a dramatic decline on a permanent basis, but he needs to be given time to find his feet at Anfield.
Furthermore, Wales goalkeeper Danny Ward is excelling on loan at Championship high flyers Huddersfield Town, keeping 6 clean sheets in 27 appearances for David Wagner’s West Yorkshire outfit as they push for promotion to the Premier League. Having signed a long-term contract at Liverpool before going to Huddersfield on loan, it is entirely possible Ward could be considered for the number one spot upon his return.
Between these two young shot stoppers it isn’t too much of a stretch to think Liverpool have their solution to the seemingly ever-present goalkeeper issue.
However, while you (I) can remain optimistic that things will improve for Liverpool’s youthful keepers, things sadly rarely ever work out that way. Thus, people’s attentions are turned to the head of recruitment at Anfield as they all have their own ideas for who should come in to remedy this ever-lingering issue.
Joe Hart, Timo Horn and Marc Andre Ter Stegen are all names thrown around by the fans, all decent shouts with regards to who should be brought in to assume the role of Liverpool’s number one (personally, if I had to choose, I’d like Gianluigi Donnarumma make the move to Liverpool). However, as has been made abundantly clear, Klopp is a man who will work with what he has at his disposal.
With that said, there’s still one aspect of Liverpool’s goalkeeper issues that has thus far remained untouched, an aspect of the club that far too often gets overlooked by fans. The coaches that operate on the training pitch at Melwood, mentoring our players and overseeing their progress; it’s an aspect of a football club that is seldom talked about, but is no less important when it comes to the performances or our players.
John Achterberg, former keeper at NAC Breda, FC Eindhoven and (most notably) Tranmere Rovers, is the man responsible for guiding our keepers on the training pitch. Recruited in 2009 by Rafael Benitez and subsequently retained by Roy Hodgson, Kenny Dalglish, Brendan Rodgers and now Jürgen Klopp, while Achterberg has far from the most impressive CV in world football, his ability to keep his position under five different managers is surely somewhat indicative of his quality as a coach.
In January of 2016, Klopp praised Achterberg and his work ethic, letting the world know he’s more than happy to have the 45-year-old Dutchman working under him at Melwood. However, Liverpool’s continued goalkeeper woes do make you wonder whether or not Achterberg is responsible for these such issues, or if it is indeed just the goalie’s lack of innate ability.
While this is an entirely feasible possibility, as fans we simply have no way of being able to determine whether or not Karius’ and Mignolet’s apparent steps backwards with regards to their goalkeeping ability can be attributed to Achterberg and how he coaches them.
There is of course the case of Reina’s decline in quality towards the end of his career at Liverpool around 2011, incidentally the same year Achterberg was appointed as first team goalkeeper coach, although it’s entirely possible that there is no cause-effect relationship between these two correlating factors.
Whatever the case, despite Klopp saying he’s happy with Achterberg, there remains a possibility the 8-year servant to the club could be replaced in the not too distant future.
The prime candidate to take up the mantle as Liverpool goalkeeping coach would be Alex Manninger. Since joining from Augsburg in 2016 the Austrian has yet to make an appearance for the Reds, however, as was made clear upon signing the 39-year-old keeper, he was brought in primarily to serve as a mentor for Karius and Mignolet as opposed to providing reinforcements between the posts.
Having played at a number of high profile clubs, including Arsenal, Fiorentina, Red Bull Salzburg and Juventus among others, Manninger has accrued a great deal of experience, making him an ideal candidate to assume a coaching role at Melwood following his (surely imminent) retirement.
With the possibility of a new goalkeeping coach being recruited, as well as the inevitability of the Reds defence being improved through new transfers, thereby providing our keeper with some much needed protection, it’s not too much of a stretch to think Liverpool’s apparent goalkeeper woes will be soon brought to a conclusion.