The issues with Loris Karius appear to mostly be in his head. He doesn’t seem to have full confidence in himself at this level quite yet, but he was developing that after reclaiming the number one spot from Simon Mignolet midway through last season. The twenty-five year old was changing the minds of fans who had written him off after his poor first season at Anfield. But his disastrous outing in the Champions League final saw many turn on him and call for Jurgen Klopp to target a new goalkeeper this Summer.
Reports of Karius suffering with concussion following a shoulder to the head from Real Madrid captain Sergio Ramos make sense when you look at the timeline of events in the Kiev final. Karius had made a very good save from, an albeit offside, Cristiano Ronaldo in the first-half and looked pretty well assured prior to the incident. Following that, he was shaky and made two glaring errors of the like we have not seen in a game of such magnitude ever before. The mistake he made for Karim Benzema’s opening goal was basic and the like you would see from an amateur on a Sunday morning down your local park. The clanger he dropped for Gareth Bale’s second goal, following a truly world-class strike the keeper could do absolutely nothing about, was horrendous. He flapped at a shot which he should have easily caught. It was straight at him and any goalkeeper worth their salt would have comfortably dealt with it. It added weight to the concussion verdict. He didn’t look sure of what he was doing at all. The alternative view is that he had a mental meltdown after allowing Real Madrid to take the lead and panicked. Both perspectives have weight behind them. His performance in the second leg against Roma in the semi-final won’t have encouraged fans either.
Reports this morning have claimed that Klopp has opted to stick with his compatriot going into the new season and will keep faith with him as number one. That has met with mixed responses from fans, with some applauding the decision to hand another chance to a relatively young keeper who was showing definite signs of improvement. Others are disappointed that no move is being made to bring in either Jan Oblak of Atletico Madrid or Alisson Becker of AS Roma, with the duo considered to be two of the very best in the game at present. They are each likely to be available, for the right price, but there would certainly be fierce competition should they indicate that they are ready to move. But why could Klopp not present Liverpool as the ideal destination for either following a mesmerising run to the Champions League final? It would be a fine time to press ahead with a move for world-class talent of reasonably young age when the stock of the club is the highest it has been in over a decade. He has proven that he has the knack of convincing players that they would be wiser to turn down interest from clubs who are winning domestic titles in order to chase them with him at Anfield. It has worked with Virgil Van Dijk and Naby Keita recently, so why could he not throw a little more of that charm at Oblak or Alisson? The prices being asked for the pair is one factor, but he has shown that he is willing to spend big when he got the £75m deal done to bring Van Dijk in from Southampton, so perhaps it is something else.
There is a view being considered by some which considers that Klopp may not actually see Oblak or Alisson as value for money or particularly big upgrades on Karius. Many won’t have watched him during his time between the sticks for Mainz in the Bundesliga before his switch to Anfield. He was very impressive and ran Bayern Munich’s Germany number one Manuel Neuer close for the prize of best stopper in the league. He was developing into a very good goalkeeper there, but his move to Liverpool was a big step up and he struggled mentally with the change in expectations during his first year. Mistakes against Bournemouth saw him written off by many, but with others pointing to David de Gea’s early days at Manchester United as an example of patience proving to be a virtue. And Karius did a good job of backing up that stance by reclaiming the gloves last season and setting about cementing his role as number one at the club. But he now has to prove himself all over again to many.
Klopp is obviously the most important person in the equation for Karius. He will make or break the German’s future at Anfield with his decision to either keep faith or bring in a replacement. Should he be given another chance as first-choice in the new campaign, he will have a lot of pressure on his shoulders. Any mistake will be magnified as used as a stick to beat him with – and not just by some Liverpool fans. Opposition supporters will not give him a second to forget what happened in Kiev and will be chanting about it from day one in a bid to help their side get the upper hand over Karius and his team-mates. He has had some big tests of character already in his short career, but getting over this massive hurdle will be by far the biggest challenge he has faced yet. But he does have one of, if not the, most supportive managers in the game on his side as well as the best fans he could possibly ask for. If Klopp does decide to begin the 2018/19 season with Karius between the posts, then fans will have to make peace with that and back him all the way. He will need to get that support and he won’t be let down. The main issue he will have is if he makes a mistake early in the new season. If he starts the season well and gets ten or fifteen good games under his belt first, he will have built up some credit and a bit of breathing space. But if he drops a clanger early on, he’s going to get a lot of fans on his back quickly. He needs to make a solid start.
There may well come a day in a few years time when fans look back and wonder why they wanted Karius to be replaced. He could go on to become a top class goalkeeper at the club and prove why Klopp is right not be prioritising bringing in a proven replacement. But he could also crumble from what has happened to him and never recover from the horror show in Kiev. Time will tell. But he certainly won’t succeed here if fans don’t give him the kind of support afforded to others. Anyone not backing him to the hilt will be flying in the face of You’ll Never Walk Alone and would be a massive hypocrite for singing the words to that song before, during and after matches. If Karius is retained as number one next season, then he must be supported and given the best chance to show that Kiev was a one-off and that he is mentally strong enough to move on from it and prove his doubters wrong.
Of course there is no shame in being disappointed should Klopp decide not to chase a deal to bring in a ready made number one goalkeeper. Karius did cost the club on the highest stage there is in club football and many will see it as impossible for him to redeem himself for that. But these fans will have to move on from Kiev too if that is how Klopp decides to play the cards he’s got in hand. It’s happened and there’s nothing that can be done to change it. The future, on the other hand, is yet to be written.