Jurgen Klopp has been presented with a decision all managers hope to have to make at some point. Competition for places is a blessing in Premier League football. It strengthens the squad, improves the starting XI and can bring the best out of under-performing players. This was probably Klopp’s thinking when he opted to bring in proven Bundesliga keeper, Loris Karius from former club Mainz for £4.7m this summer ahead of the new season. Simon Mignolet has been poor in recent seasons but an injury to Karis delayed what was expected to be his first Liverpool appearance at the start of the season.
The 23 year-old was one of the most highly rate youngsters in the Bundesliga and given Klopp’s contacts in Germany, it’s no surprise he was able to secure his signing. Most Liverpool fans expected Karius to come in as the new number one after Adam Bogdan and Danny Ward (loan) were allowed to leave before the start of the season. Karius featured in the majority of Liverpool’s pre-season campaign too, as Mignolet enjoyed time off following his inclusion in Belgium’s Euro 2016 squad during the summer. But a broken hand kept the former Mainz keeper on the sidelines as Liverpool opened their 2016-17 campaign against Arsenal, allowing Mignolet an opportunity to stake his claim to retain the number one shirt.
He appears to have done just that too. Mignolet has been victim to a high amount of abuse in recent seasons as poor form and inconsistency has dented his reputation among Liverpool fans since his arrival on Merseyside. The former Sunderland keeper has demonstrated glimpses of why he was brought to the club in 2013 but a number of costly mistakes have left him in the firing line on too many occasions. Most notably, he was left out of Brendan Rodgers’ first team in December 2014 due to a string of poor performances and was only reinstated due to an injury to Liverpool’s understudy, Brad Jones. The break seemed to do him some good though and his return sparked an improvement in his performances, as Liverpool pushed on to mount an impressive title chase.
Reds’ fans recognised Mignolet’s shot-stopping abilities and he produced a number of world-class saves in the penalty shoot-out against Manchester City in the Capital One Cup final. In that same game though, he produced a howler and it was his error which provided City with their only goal during normal time. Further errors against West Bromwich Albion and Bordeaux proved too costly and Liverpool’s defence, with Mignolet in goal, continued to fall below the standards necessary of earning a Champions League place. Many would’ve accepted any recognised keeper as their number one ahead of Mignolet but when Karius’ injury thrust responsibility on the Belgium’s shoulders, he delivered.
The Reds are just five games into the league campaign and Mignolet has featured in all of them, only making way on Tuesday evening in the EFL Cup to give Karius his first team competitive debut. So far, Mignolet has risen to the challenge, delivered fairly good performances and seems to have improved under pressure of competition from the Bundesliga arrival. Perhaps that was Klopp’s intention from the start and Mignolet was to retain the number one shirt but does five games without an error warrant Mignolet the starting position now Karius is back?
Klopp’s football strategy relies greatly on his team’s ability to turnaround possession quickly and switch defensive scenarios into an attack. In order to do this, Liverpool press the ball high up the pitch and have pace in abundance as well as passers who can keep the ball moving quickly. One of Mignolet’s greatest weaknesses is his inability to play out from the back and he often makes the wrong decisions when releasing players in open play. His kicking is inaccurate and it’s widely known he struggles as set pieces. In contrast, Karius has already shown his impressive kicking abilities throughout pre-season and if his performances in the Bundesliga are anything to go by, he’s fairly confident when dealing with set-piece scenarios.
There’s plenty of reasons why Karius’ young abilities should fit the bill and prove to be a step-up for Liverpool. However, without having any previous Premier League experience, would it be right to shaft Mignolet off his perch when he’d done very little wrong so far this season?
Whilst Mignolet is yet to produce a real howler, his entire Liverpool career suggests there is one to come eventually. Klopp must now decide whether to remain faithful and reward Mignolet for his consistency thus far or whether it’s time to introduce Karius. One thing’s for sure, if Liverpool want to compete for a European place and mount a title chase, there can be no room for errors and therefore, whilst loyalty is admirable, it’s time Klopp opted for Karius to further strengthen the Reds’ defence.