Manuel Neuer is 30 years old and the race is on to determine which bright young German goalkeeper will take over from him following the 2018 World Cup in Russia. Near the top of any list of potential replacements is Loris Karius, currently of FSV Mainz and soon to be of Liverpool Football Club, with the goalkeeper on Merseyside to undergo a medical and complete a £4.7M move to Anfield.
It’s something of a minor coup for Liverpool to be getting a shot stopper as skilled as Karius for such a low price, and that they are is mostly down to the club taking advantage of a unconscionably low buyout clause that was attached to the contract the young goalkeeper signed when he arrived at FSG Mainz from Manchester City on a free transfer.
Goalkeeper | FSV Mainz 05
DOB: 6/22/93 (22) | Height: 6’3” (1.89 meters)
2015-16: 36 appearances | 10 clean sheets
Strengths and Weaknesses: Karius is one of the most highly regarded young German goalkeepers and a nailed on starter for the side that finished sixth in last season’s Bundesliga. His 2.1 saves per goal allowed would put him alongside the likes of Hugo Lloris and Thibaut Courtois in England last season and well ahead of Liverpool’s Simon Mignolet (second worst amongst starting EPL goalkeepers at 1.27 saves per goal conceded), though not in the rarefied air of Petr Cech (2.68) and David de Gea (2.45). Any criticisms, then, come after acknowledging that Karius is a massively talented shot stopper.
If there are any potential issues in his play, it’s that some have lingering concerns about his aerial decision making and distribution game—two things that Simon Mignolet has also been frequently criticized for. His command of the penalty area and tactical understanding is already better than Mignolet’s, though, and Karius was successful on 99% of his aerial claims in the 2015-16 season compared to Mignolet’s 82% success rate. Most concerns in the air arise from some inconsistency when he was younger and that Karius often looks to punch first.
When he does come for the ball, though, he’s fully committed whether it’s in the air or on the ground, and he doesn’t hesitate in commanding his backline from the 18-yard box or from charging out to sweep up danger when he thinks he’s best positioned to deal with it. He is, to steal a scouting term once applied to another Liverpool target, a commanding and vocal presence at the back end of the pitch. At times, as one might have said about that other target, centre half Dejan Lovren, his issues stem from not always being commanding and vocal at the right times and that his distribution can sometimes seem less than polished.
In any case, Karius is at his strongest as an instinctive shot stopper, and he knows how to take good advantage of his 6’3”, 180lb frame, reacting quickly and willing throw himself into traffic and in front of onrushing attackers when called upon. His reaction speed and reflexes are probably the strongest part of his game right now, and reactions are the part of a goalkeeper’s game that are hardest to coach and develop. Technique, consistency in reading the play and decision making, and even handling and kicking can all be worked on.
Reaction speed is a different matter, and if the ability to read and react instantly and instinctively to danger is what sets apart the world class goalkeepers from the average ones, Karius really does have world class potential. The only question there, as in any case where potential is involved, is the whether he can bring up his overall game up to the point where he’s truly world class.
Summation: Karius is only 22 years of age, three years younger than was Simon Mignolet when he arrived on Merseyside with his own set of question marks and a great deal of talk about how if he could raise his overall game to match his abilities as a pure shot stopper, he could maybe even be world class. For those looking for a reason to doubt, that’s where they’re to be found—in the fact that Karius does still need work. That he remains rough around the edges.
For all his skill, for his superb reflexes and imposing build, for the way he instinctively bolts off his line to sweep up danger and hurls himself into traffic fearlessly, he’s not the finished product just yet. He will make mistakes. His aggression off his line will occasionally backfire and leave him stranded. He will choose to punch catchable balls leading to unnecessary turnovers. He may even punch and miss on occasion, especially if he finds it harder to get to the ball in the Premier League with its laxer standards of officiating.
He already does at least seem an improvement over the Simon Mignolet that so frustrated Liverpool fans in 2015-16, though, and he's arriving to be the number one at Liverpool. Hopefully the fans will have the patience to stick with Karius though any stumbles and rough patches—and hopefully the club have the right people coaching him towards taking that next step—because he’s young and massively gifted, and if he can come good, Liverpool could have themselves a marquee goalkeeper for a bargain basement price.