In my Football Manager avatar (currently managing Newcastle), whenever one of my players or my team is criticised, I jump to their defence. Press conference after press conference, I keep clicking on the option that I think will be the best defence of my team or player(s). So, I was totally not surprised when Jurgen Klopp defended Loris Karius after his mistake cost Liverpool the game last Sunday. I wouldn’t have been surprised to see Betting Offers for him to be dropped go through the roof but he even reacted a bit aggressively to Steve Cook saying that Bournemouth targeted Karius as the weak link in the Liverpool side, just like I would on FM.
But what Klopp said after the game against West Ham did surprise me. To a question about West Ham’s second goal scored by Antonio, he chose to blame Joel Matip who was excellent almost throughout the game, but for that one missed header. What Klopp said was “…Joel Matip made a fantastic game [but] in this moment he couldn’t clear the ball. Loris Karius was surprised and it was too late.”
While attribution of the error that led to the goal is quite subjective, Opta seem to have it down as a Karius error. It may be because an error that leads to a goal by a goal keeper happens relatively fewer times than a missed defensive header. When I saw it live, like most fans I had thought of it as an error by Karius that he did not close down the ball with more urgency. Rather he vacillated, allowing Antonio to seize the moment. Even if he had refrained from tackling or trying to snatch the ball from Antonio’s feet, if he had come closer to the ball, the West Ham player would have a smaller target to aim at.
However, this post is not a rant against Jurgen Klopp’s view of Karius’ mistakes during the West Ham game. As a Liverpool fan, in Jurgen I trust. Rather, this post is a look at the stats of the two potential first team goalkeepers that Liverpool have and trying to understand which of them presents a better case for selection on Wednesday night against Middlesbrough and beyond during the busy holiday season.
Karius Vs Mignolet
Karius was brought in to replace Mignolet who was deemed to be struggling after 5 league games. In those five games, he did give away 8 goals. So when the new summer signing goalkeeper was picked instead of the struggling Belgian, many fans including me were optimistic. And to be fair to Karius and to the fans, there did seem to be an improvement in the goal keeping, at least in the rate at which the Reds were leaking goals.
When we compare between Karius and Mignolet this season, we see that Karius concedes fewer goals per 90 minutes. The difference would translate to 4 fewer conceded goals per every 10 matches. But other than that one metric, everything else seems to favour Mignolet. Liverpool faced some of the toughest opponents in those first five games, including Arsenal, Tottenham, and Chelsea. This would seem like a lecture in hindsight but to expect a few more goals conceded from these three and the reigning champions is a bit natural. However, conceding six against Bournemouth and West Ham and at least two of them as a result of goal keeping errors is worrying.
Among other stats, Mignolet indeed made more saves, had a better distribution accuracy and distance (pecking), threw more punches and caught more shots and crosses per 90 minutes. I have included Mignolet’s last season in the above comparison as well. He appeared in 34 league games and had better stats than Karius (on a per 90 minute basis) in almost all areas. In my view, the difference between the two in terms of punches and catches is significant. It shows that Karius is indeed reluctant to come forward and deal with the ball – a trait clearly on show during that goal from Antonio.
Some More Stats
Using Fantasy Football data from www.fantasyfootballfix.com allows us to compare the two on some more metrics. Mignolet produced more diving saves (0.8 vs 0.4) and also saved more shots from inside the box (1.6 vs 1.2) per game in the first five matches. Karius surpasses the Belgian only in terms of no. of saves from outside the box (0.8 vs 0.4).
What is even more worrying for Liverpool fans is that even Mignolet’s numbers trail far behind some of the better goalkeepers like Heaton, Lloris and even de Gea. Heaton especially is really good at producing the saves (5.0 per game) including diving ones (0.9). He is also really good at high claims (1.1 per game vs 0.5 for Karius and 0.4 for Mignolet).
This means that whether Klopp heeds the pundits’ advice and puts Mignolet in goal versus Middlesbrough or whether he continues with Karius as he seems likely to, both of them would need to improve vastly over their form so far, for Liverpool to stop bleeding goals.