Liverpool’s superb form in the second half of the season has much to do with the defensive improvements that have been evident. Many have pointed to world record fee signing Virgil Van Dijk as the cause, but boss Jurgen Klopp was keen to recognise the role of goalkeeper Loris Karius.
The 24-year-old has made the number one shirt his own since he got a regular run of games in mid-January, for the first time since early on in his debut season for the club.
That run has coincided seven of his nine Premier League clean sheets this season from 17 appearances in the league, compared to Simon Mignolet’s return of seven clean sheets from 19 games.
Klopp feels that his improvements have been key to the general increase in quality across the backline.
“He progressed a lot. I’m really happy with his progress. [There is] still a lot to come, I’m sure,” the German said, speaking before Liverpool face Chelsea on Sunday and as quoted by the official website.
“Having games like he had in the last few weeks and months helps; nothing helps you more as a goalkeeper. Having fantastic moments, having rather not-that-good moments, is all part of development.
“He really took the chance that we gave him a few months ago and was a big part of us being more stable in that period. It’s cool.”
The coach even went as far as to say that he now has the player who he thought he had signed in the summer of 2016 for just £4 million, but an injury impacted his debut season at Anfield and Klopp himself takes the blame for that.
“Before [Karius] broke his hand he was in outstanding shape already and was exactly the boy we signed. After that obviously it was a little bit more difficult, that’s true.
“I’ve said before, it was my mistake; I changed [goalkeepers] too early that time and he was then obviously not ready in that moment, physically not ready. When a player breaks a leg you know that’s quite a harsh thing. If a goalkeeper breaks his hand it’s similar. And I underestimated that a little bit. It’s long ago, so all good.”
The goalkeeper had left many fans not convinced by his displays though he has improved substantially from those early displays, whether they were hampered by injury or not.
He is still prone to some basic errors, including in the Champions League semi-final in Rome when he could have conceded a penalty had Edin Dzeko not wrongly been called offside and he then palmed straight into the path of his former Manchester City team-mate.
Karius is clearly not the finished article yet, but he has taken his game up another level. Whilst Karius matches Mignolet in terms of saves per game at 1.8 on average, a close analysis indicates that despite defensive improvements offering more protection, Karius’ stops are more challenging.
Whilst 0.8 of Mignolet’s 1.8 saves per game come from outside the box, often a figure skewed by weak, speculative efforts from distance, for Karius that figure is just 0.4, meaning he has done more with more threatening attempts from inside the box.
Perhaps even more crucially, Karius is yet to make an error leading to a goal in the Premier League this season. In just 10 Premier League games last season, he made two such errors. In 17 to date this campaign, he is yet to do it at all.
For context, Mignolet has done so twice, whilst Arsenal’s Petr Cech has recorded six, Tottenham’s Hugo Lloris has five and even Manchester City shotstopper Ederson has two to his name.
Karius is not yet the top quality goalkeeper that Liverpool need, but he’s showing signs that he could one day be that man.