IT’S been one of many contentious issues Jürgen Klopp has had to face throughout his time at Anfield and one which shows no sign of ending, writes JOEL RICHARDS.
Who should be his number one? Simon Mignolet or Loris Karius? Or does he bin them both off and sign another goalkeeper? Does he recall Danny Ward from another productive loan spell at the end of the season and give him a chance?
The solution to his dilemma may be a lot closer than he thinks… For this season has seen a trio of young goalkeepers stake their claims for the throne through a series of impressive displays for the under-18/23 sides. In a position that is arguably one of the most difficult to break through into in any senior side, there may well be a chance that we finally see an academy shot-stopper establish themselves in the first team at Anfield and remove one less worry from the manager’s head.
In an ideal world, I’d be the answer but sadly a naturally terrible goalkeeping ability and an addiction to junk food during my adolescent years curtailed my dreams of becoming Liverpool’s number one.
So to the contenders:
The Wirral native has already gained notoriety for appearing as an outfield substitute during a pre-season win over Huddersfield Town, replacing as a second-half replacement for Lucas Leiva. Since then it’s been a frustrating campaign for George who was sidelined with a damaged ligament in his elbow, although he briefly returned to action in November with a couple of appearances for Neil Critchley’s under-18 side before making his under-23 debut at Anfield in December’s 3-2 win over Arsenal.
Despite conceding twice, George was one of the star performers on the night with a trio of impressive saves to ensure victory. A month later, the under-23s returned to L4 to face Manchester United and the 19-year-old would be given another opportunity to showcase his talents in front of The Kop; this time using his flexibility to great effect to claw away a second half penalty in a 1-0 defeat.
Since then, George’s injury woes have returned having reportedly suffered a shoulder injury, but being named in last season’s Europa League squad and called up to the pre-season tour in America underlines the high regard that Klopp and goalkeeping coach John Achterberg have for him. However an injury-free 2017-18 will be imperative if he is to further his development at the club.
Signed last summer from hometown club Rich Chorzow, the big Pole (2m high and still rising) came with an already burgeoning reputation having been included in The Guardian’s Next Generation 2016 series which profiled 60 of the biggest young talents in world football. The list also included Milan prodigy Gianluigi Donnarumma and he hasn’t done too badly so far so they must be onto something…
Grabara was fortunate to profit from George’s injury woes to begin the season as the under-23’s first choice and from there he hasn’t looked back. Not afraid to play the sweeper-keeper role, his performances have caught the eye since he overcame a tough settling in period, which included a penalty save and an unfortunate error in the same game as the under-23s suffered a 4-1 defeat at the hands of Chelsea back in August.
One performance in particular that stands out is the mini-derby win over Everton in October, with the 18-year-old making three superb point-blank saves in the second half to maintain Liverpool’s 2-0 lead. Most recently, Grabara displayed his growing ability to spread himself and close down one-on-one situations in January’s goalless draw against Sunderland, as well as making an excellent save from close range with his legs — displaying skill David De Gea would be proud of.
While his first name may make him stand out (pronounced Quivine), his actual goalkeeping skills aren’t not to be overlooked either…
Although his tall and slender frame may not pose the most intimidating figure on any attacking player, Kelleher’s greatest strength is his ability to instinctively react to shots and close his near post down to great effect as demonstrated in an under-23 loss to Manchester City earlier in the campaign. Had it not been for the Irish youth international, the young Reds could well have been on the end of a hammering and it was testament to his potential. Not bad for someone who suffered one of the most bizarre injuries in recent memory after an insect bite confined him to crutches a few months ago.
In spite of having to share goalkeeping duties with Grabara for the majority of 2016-17, Kelleher has displayed impressive consistency whether he’s been called upon at under-18 or 23 level. This was further highlighted in last week’s 2-2 draw with Manchester United as he kept Critchley’s under-18s in the game with six superb stops to keep United at bay.
It must be said that as well as the players discussed in this article, full credit must be given to the Academy staff for keeping the players on their toes and rotating them regularly between the two teams so as not to diminish their confidence or let them get carried away with being first choice.
There’s rarely been stronger competition in between the sticks at Liverpool Football Club than at present. While the manager may have more important priorities in terms of strengthening personnel elsewhere in his squad come the summer, he would be naive not to consider all of his options throughout Melwood and Kirkby before deciding whether to look elsewhere in determining who will be his last line of defence in the coming years.