The life of a goalkeeper is rarely easy, and that of a Liverpool goalkeeper even less so.
After several years of relatively underwhelming performances from Simon Mignolet, Reds fans were understandably excited when the club announced a £4.7m deal last June to sign Loris Karius from Mainz.
The 23-year-old had long established himself as the Bundesliga side’s number one goalkeeper and was voted by his peers as second-best keeper in the Bundesliga last season, losing to Manuel Neuer in the end.
To that end, there was considerable confidence that Liverpool had finally addressed one of their biggest problem areas.
That, of course, was before he conceded six goals to Bournemouth and West Ham and drew on the fiery thunder of media and supporter criticism.
The problem with being a goalkeeper, especially one in such a high-profile setting, is that mistakes are picked on and amplified immediately. There is a big difference between genuine blunders, like the one he committed to allow Nathan Aké to score for Bournemouth last week, and instances where perhaps he could have done better, such as definitely the first, if not both of West Ham’s goals on Sunday.
When the former occurs, the latter becomes that bit harder to ignore. Payet’s goal set the tone for Liverpool’s defensive performance from there on out – as soon as the first went in, West Ham could smell blood. The second goal was inevitable.
Karius’s manager Jürgen Klopp is defending him in public, as well he should, but there is only so much the boss and the team can take.
For the player’s own sake more than anything else, Klopp should consider recalling Simon Mignolet for the Middlesbrough match on Wednesday. Karius is not short on confidence or self-belief, as his feisty rebuttal to Gary Neville’s criticism last week highlighted, but when a young player – especially a goalkeeper – is drawing negative attention to himself then the best thing to do is take him out of the firing line.
In any other part of the pitch a player would have time to develop, to make mistakes and learn from them. For the goalkeeper, the last line of defence, this is simply not an option. Liverpool can’t afford for him to make errors, major or otherwise, and still have genuine aspirations of winning the league (or even finishing in the top four).
Whether he has a stormer against Middilesbrough or not now is irrelevant – unfortunately for Karius, the short-term narrative has been set, and the next time he concedes a goal he will be picked apart. It’s slightly unfair, but then this is the same unforgiving mindset that is leading to Pep Guardiola being called a fraud in some quarters.
The comparisons between Karius and David De Gea, insofar as they were both young goalkeepers thrust into the limelight and expected to be brilliant instantly in a title-challenging side, are apt, and perhaps the first seasons of the two should draw parallels.
It would be quite easy to dig up any number of articles and opinion pieces from 2011, De Gea’s first season at Manchester United, calling for the Spaniard to be dropped for a period of time while he found his bearings in England and let Anders Lindegaard take over.
De Gea, then 20/21. was similarly not short on confidence even if the performances did not tally up with that. In the end, Alex Ferguson did drop him for a time, but an injury to Lindegaard later that season allowed him to reclaim his place and he has not looked back since.
Such an approach could work here. There are numerous potential benefits to taking Karius out of the spotlight in the short-term; it would ease the concerns of the defence (hopefully they will have forgotten how terrifying Mingolet was last season), but it could also stir up an attitude of determination in the young German.
He essentially walked straight into the team at Liverpool, there was no genuine fight between the two for the starting berth. Perhaps if Karius and Mignolet are made to really work for their spot it might lead to a a quicker and higher level of maturity, and thus better performances from both.
The Belgian has had to bide his time since being dropped. He has been starting in Liverpool’s EFL Cup games but it must eat him up inside to have to watch from the bench in the league while another player has claimed the spot that used to be his own.
The 28-year-old doesn’t expect to be at Anfield in the long-term, but will be more than eager to prove his worth for the rest of this season at least – and it could stir up that same sense of resilience in Karius if he has to watch Mignolet starting week-in, week-out.
Karius is still young enough and confident enough that he could be Liverpool’s first choice for the next decade. He, like all young players, needs time to develop. Unfortunately for him (and this is something of a catch 22), Liverpool can’t afford to give him that time, not without putting their season at risk.
It could be argued that he needs game time to develop, but it could also be argued that withholding that game time could be just as beneficial for his overall development.