Why this player must start for Liverpool against FC Porto

Jack Hallows believes that Loris Karius must start in goal for Liverpool Football Club in their Champions League clash with Porto. 

Generally my articles and opinions have a slight air of controversy about them, often requiring me to explain myself at length before really getting to the point.

I don’t see this one requiring the same treatment.

Solid at Spurs, superb at Saints

The last 18 months we’ve been constantly waiting for the real Loris Karius to stand up and show himself.

The German keeper was voted the second best stopper in the Bundesliga in 2015/16 only behind the freak that is Manuel Neuer before his move to Liverpool and while his signing was initially met with positive response, it’s only really been downhill since.

A broken hand in pre-season of 2016, a poor run around the Christmas period and a brief Simon Mignolet resurgence in the Spring of last year all contributed to Karius spending more and more time on the bench. Let’s be fair, this combination is enough to suck the confidence out of any young goalkeeper.

However, now a whole six weeks into his return to the first team, Karius is finally starting to look like the player that Klopp evidently believed he’d signed.

The German was solid against Tottenham Hotspur, making a big save from Heung-Min Son and another from a Harry Kane spot kick. His distribution was at times slightly panicked but overall, his handling and shot stopping were of top quality. For once there was a real feeling that there was nothing he could have done about either goal and while the result itself was frustrating, the German himself could walk away with his head held high.

There were worries during the week that followed over what his response would be like at St Mary’s. Would he be buoyed by a good performance? Or would he be frustrated and downtrodden by his teammates letting him down late on?

Thankfully, it was the former.

Overall the German was brilliant. His distribution was far more assured and calculated, he was again confident when coming to claim crosses and his relationship with Virgil van Dijk looked to be blossoming.

The best part, however, was seeing him make two fantastic saves.

The first absolutely should’ve been made more of by the Southampton attacker but Karius was quick to make himself big, position himself to tighten the angle and get solid contact to clear any danger. While his first was impressive, his second big save of the game was almost De Gea like.

James Ward-Prowse was allowed a free header at the back post after Andy Robertson misjudged the flight of the ball and it looked destined to find the top corner. Karius had other ideas, however, flinging himself to his left and applying a strong hand to tip the ball comfortably over the bar.

At first glance, it looked simply like a superb reflex save but on closer inspection, the keeper actually reads the flight of the ball brilliantly, moving back onto his line, shifting his weight to his left side and timing his dive perfectly.

This was the sign of a goalkeeper with confidence in his ability. Had Karius been struggling, he’d have come flying out for the ball in an attempt to get there first and clear the danger before he had to make the save. Instead, Karius was proactive rather than reactive and it paid off.

Moving forward

It’s been time to bin Simon Mignolet for roughly three years now but with the Reds still in the Champions League and facing a massive run of eleven Premier League games with which they can secure a second straight season in the competition, Loris Karius must be given the number one spot.

The German has shown that with a run of games under his belt and a confident, communicative defender such as Virgil van Dijk in front of him, that he has far more ability than his competition and that his skills are far more useful.

Mignolet is an okay shot-stopper and a good penalty stopper but really, what else does he contribute to the team? His distribution is often rash and slows down play, his handling of crosses has improved but is nowhere near commanding and his inability to take command of his own box leaves defenders confused and panicked, leading to mistakes.

Karius, on the other hand, possesses a much better knack for distributing the ball quickly and effectively, helping the Reds hit sides on the counter before they can settle back into formation. The former Mainz man has also shown a recent improvement in his decision making when coming for crosses and has become far more intelligent in picking his moments to sweep behind his back four – a trait coveted by managers such as Klopp who like to play a high line.

With the Champions League being a competition in which sides are likely going to look to play football and come at us, Karius’ proactivity and relationship with his defence could be pivotal and while we’re more likely to come up against low blocks in our Premier League challenges, his quick distribution and newfound confidence could be the difference between a frustrating draw and a tight victory.

Number one next season and beyond? 

This is really a whole other conversation but the only thing I will say on this matter is that no matter Karius’ fortunes between now and May, Liverpool need a new goalkeeper next season.

Simon Mignolet and Danny Ward have both been proven to not be good enough for the club – Ward through a lack of ability to challenge two struggling keepers for the spot and Mignolet through consistent errors – and should be moved on to pastures new.

Karius has made a strong case to stay and at least fight for the number one spot next term but the reality is, Liverpool are not a team that should be settling in any area of the pitch.

If an improvement – such as Roma’s Alisson Becker or Atletico Madrid’s Jan Oblak – is available, then the club should be doing their utmost to bring them in. Defence is just as important as attack when it comes to winning any trophy, let alone the Premier League.

For now, however, I’ve been impressed by Karius’ performances since his return to the starting XI and it’s now time to give him an extended run in the team, build his confidence even further and see just how good this lad can be.

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