Friday 23 August 2019

Jurgen Klopp leaps to defence of under-fire Karius

Liverpool boss lashes back at Bournemouth’s Cook over comments on goalkeeper

“The criticism was very harsh,” the Liverpool manager said yesterday
“The criticism was very harsh,” the Liverpool manager said yesterday

Jonathan Liew

By all accounts, Loris Karius is not the sort of guy to get too down about things. Which is just as well. After one of the most difficult weeks of his professional life so far, Karius goes into tomorrow's game against West Ham as one of the Premier League's most scrutinised players.

At the heart of the issue, two questions: for a club with genuine ambitions of winning the Premier League, is their 23-year-old goalkeeper up to the job? And - more thornily - how on earth do you go about judging such a thing?

David Seaman once told me that he considered it a bad season if he made more than three or four major mistakes.

Already, Karius has made a number of minor errors - putting a goal-kick straight out of play for a corner was a particular highlight - but not until last Sunday against Bournemouth did he make a genuinely decisive blunder.

With the score 3-3 in injury time, Karius fumbled a shot from Steve Cook straight to Nathan Ake, who bundled home the match-winning goal.

"It was my mistake, no doubt about it," Karius said in a newspaper interview. "I think it looked a bit easier on TV than it was. But I should have caught it."

Numbers will tell you anything you want to hear. So what are we to read into the fact that, on average, it takes fewer shots to score against Liverpool than against any other Premier League team? Does the fault lie with Karius?

Or do we instead infer that Liverpool's defence are allowing opposition sides much clearer chances than other teams?

Jurgen Klopp veers towards option two. "The criticism was very harsh," the Liverpool manager said yesterday. "When we analysed the [Bournemouth] game I found eight players who could have defended the goal before Loris was involved. Even the best goalkeepers in the world still make mistakes."

Or as Pepe Reina, one of Karius's predecessors, put it earlier this week: "It's a team that also at times has to do better for the goalkeeper."

David Preece, the former Sunderland goalkeeper and now a goalkeeping coach, believes the German has one or two technical flaws to iron out.

"Sometimes his starting position is too deep," he says. "When the opposition gains possession in their own half - especially if you're holding a high line like Liverpool - the goalkeeper needs to be maybe five yards outside his box. Karius is around the penalty spot area. So when the ball comes through, he gets in two minds. Once people cotton on to that, they start targeting it."

Such an approach was part of Bournemouth's strategy last weekend, as defender Cook admitted afterwards. "We did target him as a weakness," Cook said.

Klopp saw those comments, and it is fair to say he was unimpressed. "That's one of the worst things I ever heard in my life," he fumed yesterday.

"I am really looking forward to playing Bournemouth again because of this. If they thought before the game that Lorus Karius is a weakness, then I don't know which game they were looking at."

This is emblematic of a more general issue within the game: the lack of genuine goalkeeping expertise.

For all the fine specialist coaches at top clubs, Nigel Adkins is the only goalkeeper to manage in the Premier League in the last few years, and they are equally scarce in the media.

Perhaps this has an effect on how we all discuss goalkeepers: reducing their performance to the tiny fraction of the game for which the ball is in their orbit. David De Gea, like Karius, endured a torrid introduction to the English game, before blossoming into a goalkeeper to rival Manchester United's very best.

"It's hard to get used to the Premier League," says Seaman. "A lot of good goalkeepers found that. It's faster than what they think."

All the signs are that Karius has time on his side.

It is, after all, only four years since he made his first-team debut for Mainz, and less than four months since he wrested the No 1 jersey from Simon Mignolet. Klopp has made it clear that he is first choice, and will stick with him for the foreseeable future.

What advice has he given Karius on dealing with the white heat of public scrutiny?

"There is no perfect recipe," he admitted. "But 'close your ears' helps a lot."

Liverpool v West Ham Utd,
Live, Sky Sports 1, tomorrow 4.30

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