I’VE been thinking about social media a lot recently. Or, to be more specific, about Twitter.
I’m a big Twitter fan. It took me a while to get into it, not understanding what it was about at first. But now I’m on it all the time. In so many ways it’s a brilliant way to get in touch with like-minded people and I love how many strangers I feel like I know because of mutual discussions around Liverpool Football Club. I certainly wouldn’t have got involved with The Anfield Wrap without it as a medium.
But I’ve also been considering its flaws in the last few weeks. The obvious problem with it is that it empowers the weird little keyboard warriors to send people abuse and hide behind a fake profile picture or an egg. Yet that’s not what I’m referring to. Those flaws are obvious and if you come across anyone like that you can just block them for being a cretin. (Easy for me to say, obviously. I occasionally get called a twat or a bit thick; a far cry from getting death threats or abuse about my sexuality).
No, my issue with social media at the moment is the way in which it allows us to question a player’s ability to such an extent that it can lead to that becoming a story. I wonder whether players will ever be given time to settle and adapt without their every move becoming analysed in minute detail.
I don’t want to get into the debate about the goalkeeper really as it’s been done already, but I will use Loris Karius as a brief example. I do not think that he’s been flawless since his arrival. His performances have been found wanting in every match and he’s certainly not the cool, calm and collected person we were all expecting before he’d even touched a ball.
Yet, if you look at social media, you’d think he’d been catastrophic; throwing the ball into the back of his own net and booting it over the Main Stand every time he tries to pass it out. He might not have looked particularly comfortable but we’ve still only conceded two goals in the last four games and kept two clean sheets in the process – including our first clean sheet in the league.
Meanwhile the history of Simon Mignolet is getting re-written, with some fans convincing themselves that he was Ray Clemence re-born before being dropped. He’s unquestionably looked better at times this season but he is still deeply flawed and I’d argue we have a good idea of his ceiling.
When it comes to Karius we don’t know his ceiling and the issue seems to be that he doesn’t look comfortable dealing with crosses or high balls; as though this was bread and butter to Mignolet. My point here isn’t to do an assassination job on the Belgian and if that’s how it’s coming across I genuinely apologise. I’ve made my opinion on him clear in the past but I have no personal issue with him — I just want the best for the team.
Here’s the thing, though. Karius literally hasn’t had a save to make in a competitive match so far. I’m not talking about dealing with set-pieces, I mean a save like David De Gea had to make from Emre Can and Philippe Coutinho at the weekend.
The set-pieces thing is a separate issue, with both Mignolet and Karius struggling from corners and free-kicks, with the defence itself not exactly being covered in glory with how it deals with these things. It strikes me that this is a systemic problem that goes deeper than just who’s between the sticks.
Karius distribution has left a lot to be desired considering he was sold to us as this ‘keeper who was amazing with his feet. Yet at one point on Monday night De Gea kicked the ball straight out of play. Under no pressure whatsoever, he booted it straight into touch.
There have been times, even recently, when the Spaniard has struggled to deal with crosses. Against Bournemouth just last year Junior Stanislas scored against him direct from a corner. There’s a brilliant YouTube video showing the worst mistakes of Manuel Neuer’s career, with numerous crosses being fumbled.
My point isn’t to say that our German goalkeeper is *definitely* going to become the next De Gea or Neuer. Yet I’m wondering whether social media and the ability to write players off so quickly and have others back up your opinion means that some fans will take forever to see Karius as anything other than a bumbling fool who makes them feel uncomfortable.
Loris Karius: Made more saves from shots taken outside the box (53) than any other goalkeeper in Bundesliga this season
— WhoScored.com (@WhoScored) May 24, 2016
In the wake of Monday night, there was a video doing the rounds of the moment that Zlatan Ibrahimovic had a free header, with some on Twitter claiming that the ‘keeper was at fault and should have done better. I watched it and wondered what else he could have done, exactly. The cross was never his to claim and instead he spread himself well and might have done enough to put the United forward off. Those belittling Karius for it seemed to me to be showing a degree of confirmation bias with that clip.
Now I’ve talked about the goalkeeper quite a lot there, but that’s simply because it’s the best example to hand. You could replace Karius with Lovren when he first arrived and have a similar conversation. Some still don’t trust him because of those early performances, despite how consistently well he’s played for us for about a year or so now.
If Joel Matip had had a slightly dodgy first few performances would he be going through the same problems? Would calls for Jürgen Klopp to bring back Mamadou Sakho be growing ever louder had the Cameroonian struggled rather than excelled for us at the start of his career?
I’m a hypocrite, of course. I’m sure at times I’ve written people off and tweeted as much in the heat of the moment. I’m also stubborn and I struggle to adjust my opinion unless presented with indisputable facts.
I’ve been having a good conversation with Mike Nevin on Twitter over the last couple of days about the ‘keepers, for example, with Mike pointing out that Mignolet is currently at the age that goalies tend to develop and mature. Yet I do wonder how long it would take me to get over my own problems with the Belgian, should Klopp decide to bring him back in.
I fear my decision to use the example of the goalkeepers means that that is all people will focus on, so I’ll try to phrase it in a succinct question or two: Does the development of social media and 24-hour rolling news mean that players will never again be given time to settle before opinions are formed and set in stone? Does the need to be ‘right’ trump the ability for players to develop and grow?
On the free Anfield Wrap podcast on Tuesday we had a discussion about Emre Can and how he fits into this variation of a Klopp team.
I thought it was a balanced chat about a player who struggled against Manchester United, having been out injured for quite a long time.
I’ve already seen some on Twitter suggest that we were wrong for writing him off, when I’m not sure that’s what we did. That’s the thing about social media, though, everyone has their favourites. It’s becoming increasingly difficult to have nuanced conversations about anything. One hundred and forty characters is a small amount of room when you’re trying to make a big point.
Karius, for example, hasn’t had the perfect start to his Liverpool career, but he definitely hasn’t been ‘shite’. He could have done a lot better but he also could have been a lot worse. It’s that sort of balanced view that we need more of, even it isn’t likely to garner a host of retweets.