SATURDAY was great. Another victory for The Reds, and we found another way of winning. After having ground out a result at a top side, battering a decent side at home, thrashing a relegation threatened side at home and blitzing a good side with a devastating 20 minute spell, we added ‘playing terribly for 45 minutes and managing to bounce back’ to the list. There aren’t many ways of winning that we haven’t achieved this season and it’s only October.
When Leroy Fer scored after eight minutes I was taken back to Watford last season, and Burnley this, and reminded of Liverpool looking lost in trying to get back into the game and being largely clueless. It was nice to see we didn’t spend the 82 minutes after Fer scored taking pot shots at goal every time the goal was in anyone’s vision.
It wasn’t perfect, though, was it? Playing badly and winning is great, but you won’t consistently play badly and win, eventually these things catch up with you.
The biggest talking point from Saturday seems to be the performance of Loris Karius, to the point that John Aldridge has said that it’s time for Simon Mignolet to come back into the side. It’s all a bit mad, isn’t it?
No, Karius wasn’t good on Saturday and there have been a couple of things I’ve found slightly concerning but he’s played 270 minutes for Liverpool, and one of those was a game against Derby where he could have spent 90 minutes sat on a deckchair doing a Sudoku and still kept a clean sheet.
I totally get the argument that we aren’t in a position whereby we can just let him learn on the job, but surely it’s far too early to decide whether or not he’s learning or it’s just nerves? After 270 minutes in goal I don’t really remember him making a save. And by that I don’t mean a save at all, I mean a top save, a save that he can feed off and give him confidence. Anyone who remembers Simon Mignolet’s debut will remember him being all at sea every time a ball went above his head, but he saved a late penalty to give Liverpool three points so it was quickly forgotten and he got a huge psychological boost.
Quite often I think things footballers do can be subjective in how you view them. For example, the decision to retreat to his line when Mike van der Hoorn missed a sitter in injury time was clearly a bad decision and poor goalkeeping, whereas there was another one where Karius retreated to his line that I felt was a good decision.
Early in the first half, Gylfi Sigurdsson put a lovely ball into the box over Borja Baston’s left shoulder. The ball would have landed about six yards from goal and Karius had retreated to his line. His decision to retreat meant that Baston couldn’t beat him with a scuffed shot, and he would have to connect really well to extend Swansea’s lead. As it was, he scuffed it and it rolled slowly to Karius. Had Karius have come for it properly then a scuffed shot could easily have beaten him. We got what we wanted, maybe intentionally or unintentionally.
I’m not a top level goalkeeper so I’ve no idea what the right decision was here, but on the face of it, it was widely viewed as poor goalkeeping but as with every decision a footballer makes we don’t live in a parallel world to see the alternative.
There’s a cogent argument that learning on the job isn’t beneficial for us as a side moving forward this season. I can totally see that. We need to minimise all ways of dropping points and a goalkeeper learning the league is definitely a way that we could lose points. David De Gea, now viewed as one of the best goalkeepers in the world, cost Manchester United points in his first season in English football, and there are parallels between the goalkeeping situation at United then, and at Liverpool now.
De Gea had clear imperfections, a little like everyone has decided Karius has at this stage. But what was the alternative? In reserve they had Anders Lindegaard and Tomasz Kuszczak, neither of whom were good enough to be a Manchester United goalkeeper so despite various De Gea ups and downs they persevered with him and it all worked out well.
Now, Simon Mignolet is clearly a much better goalkeeper than the two options that United had at the time, but over the last three years it’s clear to me that that he isn’t good enough to keep goal for Liverpool. So why, after 270 minutes of Karius would we revert? Karius clearly has a lot of learning to do and adapting to the league, but I’m almost certain that I’m going to see Mignolet making these mistakes that he has done again and again.
The creation of uncertainty isn’t going to disappear, the staying on his line isn’t going to stop, the poor kicking isn’t going to suddenly improve, and even if Karius does struggle can we really concede more goals than the previous three seasons in which we’ve conceded 52, 48 and 50? They’re alarmingly high numbers, whoever you feel is culpable for them.
Jürgen Klopp has obviously signed Karius to be his long term number one, and the man no one thinks is good enough to be our number is the one he has taken over from, so why is there a clamour to see Karius returned back to the bench?
If we still have these problems at Christmas then I would be minded to consider changing things up but you can’t just buckle at the first sign of weakness, a weakness that has cost us zero points. Goalkeepers are treated differently — if a striker, that you were of the opinion had been brought in as your main man, missed some sitters in his first couple of games you wouldn’t be thinking about taking him out of the firing line and returning someone who you know isn’t good enough.
There has to be an element of faith placed in Karius, and if the man who you’d bring in to replace him would almost certainly cost you points it makes keeping faith all the more logical.