Jurgen Klopp says Simon Mignolet, Loris Karius and Danny Ward all have a chance of starting the new season as Liverpool‘s first-choice goalkeeper – and each one can make a case.
Although no one is entirely convinced that any of the three are of the required standard for a club with the Reds’ ambitions, Klopp is painting a positive picture.
“That’s very comfortable for the manager, three really good goalkeepers, “ he said on Monday. “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.
“They are at a fantastic club and a fantastic football club needs fantastic goalkeepers. We had a really good goalkeeping season.
“We have three goalkeepers and they can all show what they are able to do, and then we will see who will start.”
Mignolet, Karius and Ward all offer something slightly different, and each one could make a case to start the Premier League season as No.1…
Mignolet goes into pre-season having won over a few doubters by finishing last season strongly – at least, in comparison to his early-season form and that which he showed in prolonged spells during his first three years at Anfield.
Karius was clearly Klopp’s man last term. The German stopper was recruited by the current boss – Mignolet was Brendan Rodgers’ choice – and almost as soon as he had recovered from a pre-season hand injury, he was straight into Klopp’s XI. By late October, in case the penny hadn’t dropped, Mignolet was told in no uncertain terms that he was now the No.2.
Mignolet’s chance came again two and a half months after he lost his place in the Premier League, and after he was recalled at Middlesbrough in December, the Belgian showed some big balls to prove that, of the two men fighting for the gloves, he was indeed the best man for the job.
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The 29-year-old showcased arguably his most consistent form since he signed from Sunderland for around £9million in 2013, making crucial saves at important times in vital matches as Liverpool secured their return to the Champions League.
Keeping Liverpool’s goal is a vastly different task to minding Sunderland’s net, and though he excelled at the Stadium of Light, it has taken a period of adjustment far longer than anyone connected with the Reds might have liked.
But Mignolet proved last season that he can cut out the errors, dominate his area all while being the type of proactive goalkeeper Klopp is looking for.
Providing he can maintain that form and avoid slipping back into bad habits, then Mignolet would be entitled to expect to start the season as No.1.
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The German has two things in his favour: firstly, he was Klopp’s signing and the manager clearly identified the potential in him to become No.1; secondly, Klopp certainly does not appear to have complete faith in Mignolet, despite his performances in the second half of last season.
A third factor could be that, for Karius, his standards can only really improve as he embarks upon his sophomore season in the Premier League.
Only Karius’s family would argue that last term was anything but a shocker for the 24-year-old. He flapped at countless crosses and committed two errors that led directly to goals in just 10 Premier League matches. Klopp put his faith in his compatriot, who simply could not repay it.
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But adjustment was necessary and inevitable, and though that period was more costly than perhaps Klopp had anticipated, Karius returns for his second season with more experience and understanding of what the Liverpool role requires. He is certainly up for the fight.
“I didn’t have an easy first season with a bit of a struggle and injuries,” he told the club’s website. “Now I want to prove myself, do better than last season and win the shirt back.
“It was a new experience for me, with a lot to learn. Even in the negative spell, I took positives out of it and learned a lot that was new to me. I feel strong mentally and also on the pitch. I want to prove myself.”
Klopp says Karius will have his opportunity to stake his claim in pre-season and the former Mainz stopper has to seize it. Liverpool face some tough examinations before the season kicks off on August 12, with dress rehearsals against two Premier League sides, Bayern Munich, Athletic Bilbao and either Atletico Madrid or Napoli.
If Karius can be flawless, then Klopp could have the justification he has been looking for to put his preferred man back in the sticks.
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Why Ward? Why not?
Many people presumed that the Welshman would remain at Huddersfield after playing a huge role in the Terriers’ play-off campaign that culminated in penalty shoot-out success over Reading. After a full season in the rough and tumble of the Championship, the same again in the Premier League would be seen by many as the natural next step.
But Klopp seems adamant, at this stage at least, that Ward will take a different path. The way he spoke on Monday at least offered the impression that the 24-year-old has a fair shot of claiming the No.1 spot ahead of Mignolet and Karius at the start of the season.
If his pre-season auditions go well, perhaps it is feasible that Ward could be handed the gloves at Watford upon the opening weekend of the Premier League campaign. Ward is no longer a rookie, having played in high-pressure games for Huddersfield and Wales, for whom he made his international debut at Euro 2016.
Ward was born on the same day as Karius and at 24, while still young for a goalkeeper, he is almost a year older than Jordan Pickford and will feel he deserves an opportunity to show what he can do for his parent club.
Many will feel that Ward is unlkely to do any worse than his two goalkeeping rivals. Between Karius and Mignolet last season, Liverpool’s keepers had the fifth worst saves percentage, both from shots inside and outside the penalty area.
Couple that with the fact Liverpool faced the fifth fewest amount of shots on target, and it highlights an area that the Reds can look to improve of they are to continue their development from top four contenders to title challengers.
Klopp has something of a dilemma with Ward. He could go out and play every week at Huddersfield, but as we have already highlighted, performing heroics in a side likely to be fighting relegation is a different task to protecting Liverpool’s goal.
But the former Wrexham stopper perhaps demonstrated more consistency than any other Reds keeper last season and the style of David Wagner’s Huddersfield at the top of the Championship mirrors closely Liverpool’s identity under Klopp.
By Ian Watson
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