With the exception of Pepe Reina's delightful run of excellence from 2006-2009, the goalkeeper spot at Liverpool has been a source of nearly constant frustration for Reds fans since, well, the late 80s, really. It's not been for lack of trying either, as the club has spent millions upon millions searching for that long-term solution to the troublesome position, going through domestic and international talent alike.
As the game has evolved, so have the demands placed on the netminders. Where it used to be enough to simply be a tremendous shot stopper, goalkeepers at top clubs intent on playing different styles in different games and in separate periods of single matches need a much wider array of skills. When their side is intent on dominating possession, they must be comfortable with the ball at their feet, usually - especially in these pressing times - while being closed down by opposition strikers. When playing on the counter, they're expected to be able to launch attacks with swift, accurate passes from both hands and feet. They should be comfortable coming off their line to sweep up behind their defenders when they push up, dominate their own aerial space, and of course, stop shots, ideally including a couple they shouldn't be expected to.
Simon Mignolet doesn't really do all that. On his day he's a true matchwinner on the line, and he's not too shabby coming off it when strikers break through his defense, but aerial prowess, distribution and technical ability with the ball at his feet aren't in his wheelhouse. They really never have been, which was why many Reds were perplexed with the club's decision to buy him from Sunderland for £9m back in 2013. Training under John Achterberg - whose hiring coincided with the aforementioned Pepe Reina's drop in performance from 2009 onwards - hasn't improved the Belgian's weaknesses, and there's been an underlying impression that the club has been looking for an improvement for as long as he's been at the club.
When Loris Karius - recently voted the second best goalkeeper in the absurdly well-stocked Bundesliga - was brought in this summer, most fans assumed he'd nab the starting spot on day one and never let it go. A broken hand in pre-season was considered merely a bump in the road, and sure enough, as soon as the German was deemed healthy and a cup match came up, he was back between the sticks. The expectation is that he'll remain there. Jürgen Klopp, though, isn't telling:
“This is not a place to announce line-ups, but of course, we have to think about it in a very positive way.
“I was never a goalkeeper, but my father was a goalkeeper so I have a little bit of experience with them. It’s obviously a little bit different to if you change a midfield player or something, it’s hard to start one game for them then not the next, so I know about this.
“Whatever decision I make for the next game is not a final one, it doesn’t mean we will go like this through the next five years or something.
“I can imagine that the view of this is different though [than to choices for other positions], but that’s all. It’s a decision on a very high level, because I’m really happy with both of them.
“I’ve got nothing to say about this here, but like always, when I decide for the next game, it’s a decision for the player and not against another player. That’s always the same, so you have to wait and see.”
If we're being real, we all kind of reckon Karius will quietly replace Mignolet, and have done so since we started drawing up goalkeeper shortlists from the BuLi a year ago, coming across that gorgeous face. Nobody would put it past Klopp to spring a surprise, though, and so all we can do is as the man himself says; wait and see.