In July 2013 Liverpool were in a mini-state of disarray. We were missing out on transfer targets weekly, our star striker – coming off the back of a 25 goal season – was making it clear he fancied a move to Arsenal, and our goalkeeper was also angling for a move.
That’s right. Pepe Reina, for a long time the best goalkeeper in Europe, had been made aware of Barcelona‘s interest and had made clear his intentions to return to his boyhood club. Barcelona, in the end, didn’t follow through on their interest in Reina but his public declarations of love for Barca made in his autobiography told us all what we needed to know. The pre-emptive goodbye letter he had written before an offer was even made sealed the deal as far as Rodgers was concerned. The new manager sent Reina on loan to Napoli and replaced him with Simon Mignolet.
It seemed a strange move at first. For a manager who rated possession and playing out from the back so highly, Rodgers had gone and bought a keeper who wasn’t great with his feet. Mignolet was a good shot-stopper but hadn’t exactly been dubbed the new Victor Valdes. Nonetheless, his career started off pretty well. He saved a penalty on his debut against Stoke, securing the vital three points we needed, and was part of a Liverpool team that went onto seal their best league finish in the Premier League era.
Liverpool conceded 50 league goals that season for which Mignolet was practically absolved of any responsibility due to the woeful defence in front of him and the 101 we had put in the other end. Liverpool’s sparkling goalscoring form in 2013/14 was, basically, a plaster on a broken leg. When the goals dried up the problems in the river bed became apparent.
Simon Mignolet was found out in 2014/15. The lack of authority and character in his play was glaringly obvious. After years of having Pepe Reina, a goalkeeper who lived on the edge of his penalty area and hardly ever dived because of his innate ability to sense where the ball was going, we now had Mignolet. Don’t get me wrong, he was a good shot-stopper – and people still say this now – but it’s not enough at the level we want to be at. From that season to this, Mignolet’s reputation has not recovered and he now maintains a place on the Liverpool bench.
Fast forward three years from where our story began and Liverpool are back in the market for a new goalkeeper. Jurgen Klopp, having taken over from Brendan Rodgers in October 2016, puts signing a new goalkeeper on his to-do list in his first summer at the club.
The chosen one is Loris Karius of Mainz, formerly of Manchester City. The signs were promising when Karius signed. He had come second in the Bundesliga stats tables with only Manuel Neuer ahead of him, and £4.7 million seemed a bargain. Again, things started well for Karius. He seemed the opposite to Mignolet. He played the game outside of his penalty area and seemed pretty confident with the ball at his feet.
Again, the cracks began to show pretty quickly. His distribution when he had the ball wasn’t great for a sweeper-keeper and the now infamous mistakes he made away at Bournemouth in December of that season ultimately cost us the game. He, like Mignolet, never really recovered from that. The nail in the respective coffins of both of these players was still yet to come.
The following season, 2017/18, proved to be a memorable one for Liverpool. We looked like a genuinely dangerous team although we were still a work in progress. It was clear that Jurgen Klopp didn’t trust either of his goalkeepers but needed to pick one.
Simon Mignolet was given the gloves to start the season. He was typical Mignolet – uninspiring to the defenders or the Kop, looking terrified everytime he had to venture outside of his six-yard box or if the ball arrived at his feet. On Saturday 25th November, Chelsea came to Anfield. With mere minutes to go in the game and Liverpool winning 1-0, Willian had the ball on the corner of the Liverpool area. He floated a ball into the box which sailed over Mignolet’s head and into the back of the net. Chelsea claimed a point and Mignolet lost his only claim to being a good goalkeeper. A good shot-stopper would have stopped that shot. He wouldn’t play again that season.
Instead, Loris Karius was given the chance to step up and he was mostly impressive. Apart from being beaten at his near post by a fierce Leroy Sane shot during our 4-3 win over Manchester City in January, Karius put forward a very good case for having a future at the club. He claimed everything that came into the box and his distribution had clearly improved. You still felt that something just wasn’t right though, almost like the clanger was waiting to come. It eventually did and in the worst way possible.
On Saturday 26th May 2018, Liverpool met Real Madrid in the Champions League final. 10 minutes into the second half Karius went to bowl the ball out but threw right into the outside of Karim Benzema’s right foot. The ball trickled into an empty net and, as if Real Madrid needed our help, they took the lead.
Sadio Mane equalised for Liverpool not long after before a stunning Gareth Bale overhead kick put Madrid back in front. What happened next was the murder of Loris Karius’ Liverpool career. Gareth Bale took control of the ball again on the right flank and cut inside. He hit a shot from around 25 yards that looked like it was heading straight for Karius. Somehow Karius fumbled the ball and it went straight through his hands. He had gifted Real Madrid their 13th European Cup and denied Liverpool their sixth.
There was no coming back from this. There had been strong rumours that Liverpool had been after a new goalkeeper before that night but Jurgen Klopp had no choice now. Karius had to go and Mignolet couldn’t be the replacement.
On Thursday 19th July Liverpool finally landed their man. We had courted him since before out Champions League semi-final with Roma in May, the club he had previously played for. It took £67 million to finally convince Roma to part with Alisson Becker but they had finally been persuaded. He had conceded seven goals over the two legs of our tie with the Italians a couple of months previously but had largely impressed during the World Cup. Still, surely no goalkeeper was worth £67 million!
On Tuesday December 11, Alisson Becker finally proved he was worth that and more. Jurgen Klopp basically said what we were all thinking in his post-match press conference: “If I had known he was this good I would have paid double for him.” Alisson’s performances this season have already proven that he is a marked upgrade on the two lads that preceded him. What we have seen over the past couple of weeks though is that we very well could have the best goalkeeper in the world on our hands.
The two massive saves he’s made – from Andre Gomes’ header in the Merseyside derby and from Arkdiusz Millik’s close-range effort against Napoli that kept us in the Champions League – don’t even need mentioning. If Simon Mignolet has taught us anything it’s that being a goalkeeper is about more than saving shots.
Forget his excellent distribution. If Loris Karius has taught us anything it’s that being able to throw or kick dead far isn’t everything. Watch Alisson go about his game. Watch him when the ball is the other of the pitch. He moves with it. He stalks his penalty area, anticipating where and when the danger may come. He claims anything inside 18-yard box whether friend or foe stands in his way.
Alisson brings us something we have missed since before Pepe Reina even left the club. He brings authority and imposition. Knowing that once you get through probably the best defender in the world that you’ll have to beat probably the best goalkeeper in the world must be deflating for opposition attackers. Liverpool now finally have a competent goalkeeper and the rewards are proving to be huge.
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