Why Liverpool Need To Clean House In The Goalkeeping Department

Throughout the years, Liverpool Football Club has enjoyed its fair share of problems. Whether it be a manager who should never have been given the job in the first place, a want-away midfielder essentially downing tools to force a move or a striker who asked “Why Always Me?” before he arrived and then went on to show exactly why during his time on Merseyside, things have rarely been issue free at Anfield. Yet I can’t think of a problem that has caused as much hand-wringing and split opinion as what’s currently going on in a goalkeeper department. Even more frustrating than the the overall situation is the fact that we’re still talking about it, arguably two years or more since most people other than those in charge realised that sorting out the man between the sticks should be a priority.

I’m struggling to think of a position in the team that the Reds have needed to upgrade so obviously for so long and yet haven’t done it. I’m also struggling to think of another club that has had as much of a problem position as Liverpool have with goalkeepers. With the exception of peak Pepe Reina, the club hasn’t had a genuinely reliable and stable goalkeeper for the best part of thirty years. In part I think that’s because we aren’t rich enough to do what Manchester United did when Peter Schmeichel retired and continuously rotate through mediocre ones until we hit the jackpot. I also think it’s slightly to do with an unwillingness from the fanbase to ‘settle’, perhaps combined with a lack of knowing exactly what it is that Liverpool supporters want from a goalkeeper. Here I’ve decided to look at why it might be time to just clear house.

Not All Of The Fanbase Trust Any Of The Players We’ve Got

Anyone who’s read any of my blog pieces or followed me on Twitter will know that I’ve been a fan of Loris Karius ever since he signed for the club. The youngster came in with a sterling reputation as the second-best goalkeeper after Manuel Neuer the year before and was immensely unlucky to break a bone in his hand during training before his Liverpool career really got a chance to take off. I have no idea how much that might have affected his confidence, but when he did eventually come in he made a few mistakes and supporters focussed on them rather than on the decent saves he made. He was bombed out and replaced by Simon Mignolet, despite the fact that pretty much everyone had been sick of the sight of the Belgian for about a year or so.

It’s never been that Mignolet is a really poor goalkeeper, it’s just that he’s a mediocre one who has a few mistakes in him and his time at the club has surely come to an end. Those who were annoyed that Karius eventually came back in to replace him seemed to both forget how many errors he had in him at times as well as blocked out how many good saves the German made on his reappearance in the starting eleven. Unfortunately, Karius will simply never be forgiven for his mistakes in the Champions League final, with critics simply dismissing the fact he suffered a concussion out of hand. Added to those mistakes are the video of him allowing the ball to slip between his legs in the warmup against Chester and then the goal he conceded against Tranmere Rovers last week, plus the fact that any time a goalkeeper makes a mistake his name trends on Twitter.

By Антон Зайцев (https://www.soccer.ru/galery/1050902/photo/728326) [CC BY-SA 3.0 GFDL, CC BY-SA 3.0 or GFDL], via Wikimedia Commons

Personally I still think that Karius has the qualities to become a decent goalkeeper, especially when you consider that normally those in that position don’t really hit peak form until their late twenties and he’s still just twenty-five. Regardless, I do think that he needs to be taken out of the spotlight and that almost certainly means some time away from Anfield. The manager has been right to give him a run out in pre-season but he hasn’t done enough to suggest that the horror of Kiev is behind him. With neither Mignolet nor Karius winning over the entire fanbase, can Danny Ward unite us all behind one man ahead of the new season? In short, the answer is ‘no’. Those that keep saying he should be given a chance are the same ones who said that Brad Jones and Adam Bogdan couldn’t have been any worse than Mignolet, only to be proven very wrong indeed.

My feeling on Danny Ward is that there’s a reason he only got one start last season. I’m not sure what has changed between now and last year, other than the fact that we seem to struggling to buy a first-choice goalkeeper. He could’ve got games in the FA Cup or in the Champions League second-legs against the likes of Porto. He didn’t, meaning that many supporters will be suspicious of him and he won’t receive much leeway in terms of conceding goals or making mistakes. Being the goalkeeper of a top club is a particularly tricky thing to do and the fact that Ward hasn’t experienced what it’s like to be playing in the Premier League, getting the main part of his experience in the Scottish Premiership and the EFL Championship, means that I think it would be incredibly risky to head into the coming campaign with him as number one and someone no one trusts as number two.

The Coaching Remains Questionable

As much as I’m bored of talking about Loris Karius, Simon Mignolet and Danny Ward, that’s as nothing compared to how I feel about hearing John Achterberg’s name. Let me absolutely clear: I have zero idea what Achterberg does with the lads in training. The former Tranmere Rovers number one might be one of the most intelligent, experienced and hard-working goalkeeping coaches in the history of football for all I’d know about it. I have zero problem with the man himself and I agree with those that point out that if you don’t know what he’s up to in training then it’s not far to say he’s not doing a good job. Yet I also think there’s something to be said for the fact that since he arrived, Pepe Reina’s form took a nose dive, Simon Mignolet has been mediocre, Brad Jones and Adam Bogdan have both been embarrassingly bad and Loris Karius has become a laughing stock to other football fans.

I’m more than willing to admit that it’s entirely possible that it’s all a big coincidence; again, I have no idea what happens in training sessions. I also have to say that I think Karius improved after he came back in for Mignolet last season, so if I’m willing to criticise the coach for poor performances then I also have to give him credit when a shot-stopper’s form improves. Yet the reality is that there are plenty of people in the Liverpool fanbase who are sick of him and are unlikely to give his work any credence. Any time a new goalkeeper makes a mistake, should we buy one, Achterberg’s name will crop back up. I’m personally of the opinion that the best chance we’ve got of the club moving on from the goalkeeper being a problem area is by completely cleaning house and starting afresh. Get rid of the entire coaching staff, the complete playing staff and just start over.

A New Goalkeeper Will Be Given More Time

When Hugo Lloris made his howler of an error in the World Cup final, I pointed out that goalkeepers can make massive mistakes, even on the highest stage. It’s not something that is limited to Loris Karius and the sooner we all realise that being a goalkeeper is really, really hard the sooner we’re likely to be more forgiving. I was rapidly informed that Lloris gets away with it and Karius doesn’t for the same reason that David de Gea can make as many mistakes as he wants and everyone will turn a blind eye to them – their stock is high. No one can question that Lloris, like de Gea, makes brilliant saves. He’s also reliable 90% of the time, with howlers like those thrown in in Moscow being far rarer than the great saves he makes. In terms of weighing things up on a scale, the pros outweigh the cons for those goalkeepers in a way that they don’t for Karius and wouldn’t for Ward.

If Liverpool were to go out and pay a decent chunk of money for a goalkeeper then they would immediately be given more time to settle and prove themselves. I’m not even talking about the €70 million plus being quoted for Alisson Becker, either. Spending £30 million on Kasper Schmeichel wouldn’t be a massive improvement over the shot-stoppers that we already have at our disposal, but the good will it would earn from the majority of the crowd might make it worth the money. The only option shouldn’t be choosing between one of the best goalkeepers in the world or sticking with what we’ve got. There should also be an option of bringing in someone new because it will just help everyone chill out for a bit. Let’s be honest, we’re likely all bored to tears by taking about the goalkeeper situation so the best way to do that is to just make a decision.

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