Twenty-two year-old Danny Ward made his full Premier League debut for Liverpool against Bournemouth as Jurgen Klopp decided to rest 10 of the players who played in the incredible win over Borussia Dortmund three days before.
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Ward was called back from a successful loan spell in Scotland with Aberdeen. He became an integral member of the squad and was arguably the most consistent performer in the team. Some fans went to the length of calling him the best goalkeeper they had seen in the last decade or so. With summer signing Adam Bogdan struggling and embarrassing himself on a few outings, it made perfect sense that if the Reds weren’t signing anyone in the winter, they would call back the option that was available to them, and one who was doing rather well for himself.
Ward joined the Liverpool Academy from Wrexham in 2012. He signed a new five-year-contract at the the club last year in the summer and shortly after was loaned to the Scottish side. Liverpool sent out their young goalkeeper to a place where he would get some game time especially since Brendan Rodgers had decided to replace Brad Jones with Adam Bogdan. In his spell with the Dons in Scotland, Ward kept 13 clean sheets which prompted Liverpool to call him back, especially with Mignolet and Bogdan both struggling at the time.
Ward’s debut against Bournemouth was a successful one. The Welsh international was calm and composed in front of goal and almost got the clean sheet back with him too. Against the Cherries, Ward showed command in the box, a strong presence behind the back four, good shot-stopping skills and very importantly, good decision making which Dons fans said he possesses as well. Ward knew when to stay on his line, when to punch and when to catch the ball. His distribution also showed a more direct style as opposed to Mignolet’s preferred short passing style.
Ward’s excellent debut presents Klopp with another option and makes things a little difficult to guess for the summer. Liverpool are widely expected to get a goalkeeper this summer. The likes of Marc-André Ter Stegen, Timo Horn and Jack Butland have been linked with a move to the Merseyside club. Simon Mignolet also penned a surprising five-year contract earlier this season. An incoming goalkeeper would reduce Mignolet to the second choice keeper. Would the Belgian, who has been the first choice keeper almost all his career, be open to playing sparingly as a back-up to whoever comes? If he is, Ward would be the third-choice keeper and at 22, should ideally go out on loan somewhere where he can get regular game time.
However, if Mignolet isn’t content being the second-choice keeper, Ward playing the back-up role to the first choice keeper would be absolutely perfect for him. Klopp is known to have faith in young players and he wouldn’t be against the Welshman playing a back-up role and using him in cup games Experience might be extremely vital on occasions but confidence and ability to step up can trump numbers like the amount of games played which really aren’t as significant if you cost the team the win.
Considering Mignolet is 28, which is around the time goalkeepers peak, and the fact that he signed a new contract only recently, there is a significant chance that the Belgian stays on as the first-choice keeper. In this scenario as well, Ward could be the ideal second-choice keeper for the club. However, if Liverpool are to be competitive next season and challenge for the top 4 spots, the arrival of a quality first-choice keeper is imperative and whether or not Mignolet — who has been so patchy in his career he can sometimes compete with Buffon and sometimes be calamity David James — steps up, is up for question.
The season isn’t over, however, and Klopp has some time before he makes his decision about the goalkeeper conundrum. It’s clear Liverpool’s main focus right now is the Europa League. Mignolet is in good form again and would be the first choice keeper for the coming semi-final games against Villarreal. Can Ward actually save the Reds a lot of money in the market? Could he possibly be the upgrade on Mignolet for a good second choice keeper Liverpool are in need of, assuming they get a good one in the summer? If not the tough encounters against Everton and Chelsea, the games against Swansea and Newcastle at least, should be used by the German to test the waters and use the 22-year-old in goal. With little to play for in the league in the remaining six games, Klopp should utilise these games to make his plans for the summer.