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Liverpool’s Goalkeeper Debate, Revisited

Simon Mignolet, Loris Karius, Danny Ward, or splash the cash for someone new?

“Try saving a fuckin’ shot, yeah?”
Photo credit should read PAUL ELLIS/AFP/Getty Images

After losing 4-1 in embarrassing fashion to Tottenham Hotspur, in a game where there was plenty of blame to be levelled at a hapless Simon Mignolet, I wrote about our goalkeeper controversy. Since then, neither Mignolet nor Loris Karius has done enough to convince us that there is a clear favorite between the sticks.

As I paraphrased then, the adage about quarterbacks in American football rings true: If you have two quarterbacks, you have none. In our case, we have three goalkeepers vying for the #1, and no Liverpool observer can really make a 100% convincing argument for any of them.

In recent weeks, we’ve seen more of Karius. Despite being designated as our Champions League goalkeeper—a role in which he has been adequate, if not great—the German keeper has been rotated in for several league matches here and there. Again, last night, he found himself with the starting role in the 3rd Round of the FA Cup. As expected, Everton did not test Karius much, but low and behold, the one and only shot on target found the back of the net.

Now, before throwing Karius completely under the bus, I’m not sure many keepers would have stopped that shot, Gylfi Sigurdsson placed his first-time shot perfectly in the near corner. But the fact that Karius didn’t even make a diving effort is a concern. That Mignolet had a similar reaction (or lack thereof) to Ashely Barnes’s attempt in the previous match, and was only bailed out by the Burnley man’s effort rolling just wide of the frame.

This season, Liverpool have been consistently among the best defenses in shots allowed. However, over the past several seasons (dating back to before the arrival of Klopp and his gegenpress), they’ve been consistently underperforming in expected goals allowed.

A few fingers, or perhaps a million, have been pointed at Liverpool’s goalkeeping coach John Achterberg. I honestly don’t know enough about Achterberg to say whether he is the real culprit. Regardless, at this moment, it seems we have a problem not just with the coach, but with the players he coaches.

Both Karius, and Danny Ward, who has been sidelined with a back injury (a real one, believe it or not), are young and could yet reach their full potential. I would be happy to keep one of them around to see how they continue to develop.

However, I think we’ve seen all the evidence we’ll ever need to see about Mignolet.

There are rumors that Klopp & Co. are looking into reinvesting the likely Coutinho windfall on bringing in a top, top keeper. This really must be a priority. Goalkeepers, especially compared to attacking players, are relatively cheap. For a point of comparison, Manchester City spent £34.7 million for Ederson. A better goalkeeper could be worth, minimum, several points down the stretch, in what will likely be a tight race to round out the Top 4.

Being able to bring in a keeper such as Roma’s Alisson, or Atletico Madrid’s Jan Oblak would be a bold move, and another statement for the club’s long-term ambitions.

If we must make due with what we have now, a new goalkeeper has to be our first priority in the summer. This team is very close to being able to compete at the top of the league. A top goalkeeper would go a long way toward getting there.

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