Germany is a goalkeeper country, claimed Jürgen Klopp, conjuring images of Sepp Maier roaming the Bavarian Alps, Oliver Kahn overseeing heavy industry in the Ruhr Valley and Harald Schumacher lying in wait for Patrick Battiston at the French border. The Liverpool manager’s argument is that a common mentality is responsible for his country’s rich goalkeeping traditions. His belief, and judgment, is they will be ultimately preserved at Liverpool by Loris Karius.
The 23-year-old will receive a third vote of confidence from Klopp should he start against Manchester United at Anfield on Monday. The first was the manager’s decision to sign the Germany Under-21 international from Klopp’s former club Mainz in May for £4.7m. The second was to end Simon Mignolet’s reign as Liverpool’s first‑choice goalkeeper once Karius had fully recovered from the broken hand that stalled the succession in pre-season. The third will be to back his young compatriot following an uncertain display last time out at Swansea City with inclusion in the biggest fixture in English club football. Having insisted his goalkeepers are not on trial at Anfield, and the potential ramifications of demoting a young player without good cause, Klopp must be inclined to keep faith as he builds for the present and future.
Liverpool’s manager has no reservations over Karius’s temperament or pedigree, as evidenced by one of the most important selection calls of his 12-month tenure. “He was a really strong Bundesliga goalkeeper, that means a lot,” Klopp has explained. “Germany is a goalkeeper country. We have no issue with goalkeepers. The best keeper plays at Bayern Munich and is German. We always had good ones, maybe not always the best in the world but good ones. The mentality is we like this job. The kids like to wear gloves. It’s good to be in goal for a Bundesliga team.”
Karius was ever-present as Mainz finished an impressive sixth in the Bundesliga last season, his third as the club’s first-choice goalkeeper. Only the top three – Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund and Bayer Leverkusen – conceded fewer goals than Mainz’s 42 and, in a poll conducted among his fellow professionals, Liverpool’s recruit was voted second best in the division behind the formidable Manuel Neuer. Not one of Karius’s 93 appearances for Mainz, however, carried the same level of scrutiny or global fascination as a fourth competitive outing for Liverpool will do on Monday.
Liverpool v United represents a test of nerve as well as ability and, as Jerzy Dudek and David James can testify, high-profile mistakes against the club’s fierce rivals are not easily forgotten. That said, a goalkeeper’s debut in the fixture is not always an accurate gauge of the career to come. Massimo Taibi was the man of the match on his first appearance for United, a 3-2 win at Anfield in September 1999.
However, Karius demonstrated strength of character long before Klopp signed him to exert overdue pressure on, and replace, Mignolet. The former Stuttgart youth-team goalkeeper had to overcome a problematic start at Mainz before establishing himself as the No1 at the age of 20. “I saw his way,” Klopp said. “He had a bad start at Mainz, when no one wanted him, to become an outstanding goalkeeper.”
The Biberach-born goalkeeper spent two years at Manchester City’s academy – he remains friends with Mario Balotelli from their time together at the Etihad – before choosing to leave in pursuit of first-team football at Klopp’s old club. A single-minded approach to his career was evident again in the summer when he rejected an invitation to represent his country at the Olympics to press his claims at Anfield instead. Innate self-confidence was also on display when he sat down with journalists at Melwood shortly after signing a five-year contract with Liverpool. “I wouldn’t come here just to sit on the bench,” he said. “I’m not a keeper who hasn’t shown his ability. I know I am a good goalkeeper and I’ve shown that a lot.”
Thanks to Liverpool’s fine form – and Swansea’s woeful finishing at the Liberty Stadium a fortnight ago – Karius has had little opportunity to show the credentials that ousted Mignolet from the No1 spot, despite the Belgium international’s impressive reaction to the improved competition. There have been no crucial interventions from Karius in appearances against Derby County, Hull City or Swansea; little has been asked of the goalkeeper’s reactions, distribution or communication skills so far. Liverpool will be happy for it to stay that way beyond Monday.
What was notable in the Premier League games, and prompted a few phone-in calls for Mignolet’s reinstatement against United, was Karius’s reluctance to leave his goalline at set pieces and a hesitancy when dealing with crosses in a congested penalty area. Hull and Swansea scored from corners that Liverpool failed to clear at the first attempt and their susceptibility at set pieces will not be lost on José Mourinho in his preparations for Anfield. The flaw was in Liverpool’s defense before the change of goalkeeper and, as Klopp is fond of saying, it takes a series of lapses for the opposition to have a clear sight of goal rather than one individual error.
As with David de Gea and so many goalkeeping imports before him, Karius needs time to adapt to the occasional aerial assault and, more importantly, the physical demands of the Premier League. It can be an arduous, painful process but, as far as Klopp is concerned, his compatriot has had the best grounding.