Bouncing Back: Making the Case for Loris Karius as Liverpool’s Long-Term Number One

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They say time heals all wounds, and for many in football, this rings true.

Even for the likes of Xherdan Shaqiri and Jack Butland, who were involved in a catastrophic Stoke City campaign that saw them drop out of the Premier League after a ten-year stay, the 2017/18 club football campaign is a distant memory, as representing their nations at the upcoming FIFA World Cup is now the priority.

But one man who won’t be able to put such failings to the back of his mind is Loris Karius – and not just because he’s been left out of Germany’s 23-man squad. 

Karius, simply put, had an absolute nightmare in Liverpool’s 3-1 Champions League final defeat to Real Madrid. Either side of Gareth Bale’s wonder strike, the 24-year old keeper – Jurgen Klopp’s unmovable choice as number one throughout the second half of last season – gifted Karim Benzema with an open goal, and then flapped embarrassingly at a tame Bale effort to allow the defending champions to retain their crown.

The mistakes came at a cruel, cruel time, from a Liverpool perspective and moreso from Karius’ himself. It looked set to be a historic night, and belief coursed through the veins of every Red in Kiev and beyond as they attempted to reclaim the trophy for a sixth time. 

Instead they finish yet another season empty handed, and Karius, man enough to take his share of the blame in front of the massive travelling support at full time, is left with a night etched into his nightmares for the rest of his life.

However, while Karius was the man rightly in the headlines for the wrong reasons, something doesn’t sit right about the cavalcade of social media abuse the German stopper has received since Saturday night. Remove emotion and sentiment from the equation, remove the enormity of the occasion, and you’re left with facts that tell an entirely different story about Loris Karius than the common perception.

Perspective is important. After signing him from Mainz two seasons ago, Klopp gave him his chance last season, and he looked far from assured. He looked blunder-prone, shot of confidence, and appeared to be some way off an improvement on Simon Mignolet. 

In 2018, though, with the calming influence of Virgil Van Dijk marshalling the defence in front of him, he has looked a different player. The costly mistakes with which he will now forever be associated had largely subsided prior to Saturday, as only the Manchester clubs conceded less goals in the Premier League than Liverpool in 2018. 

The vast marked improvement in his game cannot be ignored, and had been noted by Liverpool supporters, with many coming to believe he may well be good enough to take the number one spot next season. This sort of improvement doesn’t just disappear in one night. 

What’s more, is there could be a simple explanation for this divergence from what had become the norm for Karius since January. Not that it will ease the rough summer the keeper is in for in any way, but reports have surfaced that the German suffered a concussion earlier in the match – caused by a Sergio Ramos challenge – that went largely unnoticed, and it’s thought that such an injury could easily have manifested itself in the form of basic judgement errors. 

At worst, he is inexperienced, and perhaps at 24, yet lacks the mentality to cut it at the highest level. This is something that comes with the experience of playing football, and maybe a season competing with an experienced, world class keeper (looking at a certain 40 year-old Italian legend, perhaps) for the number one jersey at Liverpool is what the doctor ordered. 

Additionally, it should be noted that Liverpool lost the Champions League final, not only Loris Karius. To paraphrase left back Andy Robertson, Liverpool win as a team, and on Saturday night, they lost as a team. Karius’ mistakes proved costly, but Liverpool’s collapse after Mohamed Salah’s premature departure with a shoulder injury shouldn’t be overlooked.

They had dominated the match until that point midway through the first half, more than matching the Spanish titans man for man, but Salah’s replacement, Adam Lallana, was unable to act as an adequate replacement for the Egyptian talisman – who could? – and the knock in confidence, and indeed industrious quality, proved telling. 

Following Saturday night’s defeat, rumours have been rife that Liverpool are set to replace Karius, with links to Roma goalkeeper Alisson Becker resurfacing, and it may well be the case that this was always part of Klopp’s plan despite installing the German as his number one ahead of Simon Mignolet. But to do so in a knee-jerk reaction to one error-ridden performance, potentially caused by injury, would be foolish – something Jurgen Klopp is not. Karius has developed immensely in the last six months, and if he can continue to build on his game at the same rate, he will one day be a truly world class goalkeeper. 

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