“IT is like it is and nothing is decided, they can all show how good they are. I don’t want to bring doubt so that they start doubting.
“We have three goalkeepers and they can all show what they are able to do, and then we will see who will start.”
The words of Jürgen Klopp in an interview with the club’s official website as he prepares to enter his second full season at the club with three first team goalkeeping options at his disposal.
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Compare that with the German’s comments in October of last year where he said: “In this moment we have a number one and that’s Loris Karius. That’s the situation and the goalkeepers know. I cannot leave them in doubt.”
So what has changed?
When Karius arrived for £4.7million from Mainz it seemed that the 24-year-old had arrived to be The Reds’ new number one with Simon Mignolet bearing the brunt of criticism for some less than impressive performances over the years.
After a promising start to pre-season by Karius, a hand injury sustained after accidentally punching Dejan Lovren in a friendly against Chelsea gave Mignolet an opportunity to prove his worth to the manager and the supporters. While he didn’t disgrace himself his early performances weren’t enough to stop Klopp turning straight back to his compatriot when he believed he was ready to return.
But that was where the manager made an error of judgement. While most would agree with his decision to bring Karius back in for the League Cup third round clash against Derby, the decision to keep him in for the foreseeable future increased the pressure and scrutiny around his performances and created a lose-lose situation — dropping Mignolet would have affected his confidence while a few bad performances would have a similar impact on the German.
After uneasy performances against Swansea and Palace and a shocker against Bournemouth, the final nail in Karius’s coffin came when he was easily beaten by a Dimitri Payet free-kick at home to West Ham.
While Mignolet’s reinstatement coincided with The Reds’ poorest spell of form, there wouldn’t have been many who would point the finger of blame at the Belgian stopper.
In fact, once Liverpool started to rediscover their form, Mignolet stood out as one of the star performers. As Klopp’s side ground out victories in successive tough away trips to Stoke and West Brom, Mignolet’s stops were crucial in bringing six vital points in the race for the top four.
That late improvement would lead most to believe that the 29-year-old would be Liverpool’s number one heading into the new season, with the increased amount of games giving Karius ample chance to turn his fortunes around.
But the reports suggesting that Danny Ward will be kept at the club, with an offer from Huddersfield being rejected, mean that it could be a three-horse race in 2017-18.
Klopp’s early show of faith in Karius suggests that he won’t be willing to give up on him too easily but perhaps it is Karius’s failure to repay that faith over the course of last season that has left the manager frustrated.
Meanwhile, despite his much improved form at the tail end of last season, Klopp will still have reservations about Mignolet’s ability to perform on a regular basis. It’s tough to say conclusively whether the Belgian has turned a corner and any bad performances in the new campaign will likely receive the same level of criticism as in years gone by.
As for Ward, another season in the Premier League with newly-promoted Huddersfield seemed the perfect option for all parties but Liverpool’s reported not for sale tag casts that into doubt.
Given that the Welshman has made just two first team appearances, it’s unlikely he’ll be the first choice between the sticks. He has made an impression over the last two seasons with loan spells at Aberdeen and Huddersfield but it’s hard to see a scenario where he does more than make up the numbers, with the exception of the odd League Cup appearance somewhere down the line.
With Alex Manninger retiring from football to relaunch his career as a professional joiner — no seriously — perhaps Ward is coming in to provide that cover if one or more of the preferred options are unavailable.
In his advancing years Klopp’s latest comments will perhaps create some doubt in Mignolet’s mind as to whether he is the guaranteed starter. Gone are the days when serial nice guy Brad Jones would be waiting in the wings for his next chance to prove he’s not good enough. Whether Mignolet thrives under the weight of the extra competition remains to be seen.
So the goalkeeping situation at Liverpool is still up in the air. Klopp’s change of heart over what he believes will leave his ‘keepers doubting doesn’t seem like particularly good news for any of his options, though it suggests that Karius and Ward will be given the chance to fight for their place if they suspected that may not be the case.
One thing that is clear is that The Reds will move into pre-season and beyond with a selection headache in goal. And that in itself is an improvement.