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Should a new backup goalkeeper be a priority for Liverpool?

The £65m world record signing of Alisson Becker has, in theory, solved Liverpool’s goalkeeping problems for both the short and long-term future. However, with his arrival we now have many other goalkeeping questions to address. Who leaves? Who stays? Who becomes his backup? Do we sign a new keeper? And what do we do with Loris Karius?

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Existing Options

Adam Bogdan & Shamal George have left the club on loan. Danny Ward has been sold to Leicester City for £12.5m in what seems to be a smart deal for Liverpool. Youngsters Caoimhin Kelleher & Kamil Grabara have both featured for the club this preseason and would seem to be in competition for the role of third-choice keeper.

That leaves us with Loris Karius & Simon Mignolet. Towards the end of last season, after he’d lost his starting spot to Karius, Mignolet said he might leave the club for regular first-team football. The consensus was he’d made one error too many and the club was happy with Karius – opening the door for the Belgian to leave.

Of course, things can change rapidly in football and Karius’ horror show in the Champions League Final and subsequent loss of confidence has seen the club sign Alisson to displace him.

Karius was asked about his future after another error led to a goal versus Borussia Dortmund on Sunday. “I do not know that,” he said. “I cannot say what I’m doing right now. There’s still some time left (in the transfer window).”

This non-committal response came shortly after he used his Instagram account to deliver an emotional rebuttal to the abuse he’s been receiving from supposed Liverpool fans on social media. Most fans are rallying around the young German and publicly backing him. Perhaps his fragile mental state and apparent lack of self-belief would be best served with a spell out of the limelight.

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With his market value now diminished, a permanent sale would be unwise. A loan to a Bundesliga club would get him out of England, away from the media circus and hopefully back to form. In an ideal world he could return to Anfield next summer refreshed, with a strong season behind him and ready to assume duties as Alisson’s backup.

Karius remaining at Anfield and lurking on the periphery as the club’s number two may also see him return to normality. I tend to believe that should he feature and make yet more errors the media backlash would be so severe that he’d be far better off leaving Merseyside for at least the short-term future.

Mignolet seems even more likely to leave than Karius. According to reports he is valued at about £12m with the likes of Barcelona, Besiktas and Fulham interested in his services. It is probable LFC will find a suitor and move him on before the closure of the summer transfer window on August 9.

Parameters

Having just languished £65m on a new stopper it’s wise to assume Liverpool won’t be looking to bring in the second option. A reserve keeper needs to tick many boxes and though they won’t usually be expected to play regularly they are still an important member of a squad.

Ideally LFC would target a veteran keeper who is willing to accept a reserve role but still be capable of stepping in should Alisson get injured. It’s likely they might be a starter at their current club but happy to leave and join Jurgen Klopp’s project in return for an opportunity to win trophies. A positive mentor for Liverpool’s young goalkeepers would certainly do no harm either.

Shortlist

Considering my parameters I managed to identify a few names that could fit the bill. All are veterans, likely to be available and unlikely to command a large transfer fee.

René Adler – FSV Mainz

Adler (33) was once the German #1 before injuries and the emergence of Manuel Neuer rather changed his career path. He hasn’t added to his 12 caps since 2013.

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He was a rising star at Bayer Leverkusen until injury issues, including missing almost the entire 2011/2012 season with a knee problem, saw him lose his place to Bernd Leno. After moving to Hamburg SV in 2012 he managed to compile two strong seasons but again struggled to remain fit and found himself in and out of the side.

A move to Jurgen Klopp’s old club Mainz last summer on a free transfer saw him again perform well but miss twelve league games with a hamstring problem. With his current deal expiring in a year’s time he could be available at a cut price.

Salvatore Sirigu – Torino

Sirigu (31) joined Torino last summer on a free transfer after six years as a Paris St Germain player. He was a key man as PSG won nine major trophies including four Ligue 1 titles. The signing of German stopper Kevin Trapp in summer 2015 saw Sirigu lose his place and after two years out on loan in Spain he eventually chose to move on.

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Long considered Gianluigi Buffon’s heir as Italy number one Sirigu has regressed slightly over the past few years as his career stagnated in Paris. Although he did make it back into the national team squad this year and earned his 18th cap.

He is a big, imposing keeper. Quick off his line and adept with his feet as his 71% passing accuracy last season in Serie A would attest. He has not been linked with a move away and seems happy in Turin but the return from loan of highly rated young Italy U-20 international Andrea Zaccagno may see him revert to the role of backup once again.

Guillermo Ochoa – Standard Liège

Ochoa (33) starred for Mexico at the World Cup last month and with 94 caps there are few more experienced options available. Four years ago, prior to performing yet more heroics in the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, he was linked with a £4m move to Anfield yet remained at Malaga. He signed a two-year contract with Belgian side Standard Liege in July 2017.

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A flamboyant stopper fond of spectacular saves Ochoa has found it difficult to gain an established number one position throughout his club career. Regularly flip-flopping between starter and backup and changing clubs six times including loans. With only one year remaining on his current deal, he may be available for a low fee and has been linked with a move to both Boca Juniors and Napoli this summer.

Rune Jarstein – Hertha Berlin

Jarstein (33) moved to Hertha in 2014 and has been their first choice keeper for the last three seasons. He is also the current Norway number one and has 51 caps since his debut in 2007. As Hertha have several young keepers on their books including the talented son of ex-Germany star Jurgen Klinsmann it could be that Jarstein might be made available.

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He did sign a new contract in April earlier this year to keep him in Berlin beyond 2019 but a bump in wages and a short-term deal at Anfield might be too much to resist.

Iker Casillas – FC Porto

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Now well into the twilight of his career, Casillas (37) is enjoying life in Portugal while moonlighting this week as Loris Karius’ social media protector! Posting a video showing some of his own career worst gaffes while writing “Learning from our mistakes will make us stronger” shows what a class act he is.

 

Casillas is a true gentleman of the game and couldn’t be more perfect as a mentor to both Alisson & Karius. He is way past his prime and obviously no longer one of the best keepers in world football but his conduct and professionalism are an example to all. And he is still more than capable of performing should he be called upon.

Yann Sommer – Borussia Monchengladbach

Sommer (29) is the current Swiss goalkeeper (39 caps) and has been of rumoured interest to Arsenal this summer despite them already spending £19.3m on Bernd Leno from Bayer Leverkusen.

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The Gladbach man is an acrobatic and athletic stopper capable of the spectacular. He is also a modern gloveman in every sense as his precise distribution would attest. He also represents a step up in quality from those listed thus far and recent reports suggest his potential transfer fee of £25m would reflect that.

Sommer is a talented keeper and first choice at a well placed Bundesliga club so him accepting a backup role at Liverpool might appear to be unlikely. If he is advised he would be considered as a challenger to Alisson and not a mere reserve it’s plausible he could be lured to Anfield.

Neto – Valencia

A similar scenario to that of Sommer’s would befit the Brazilian keeper Neto (also 29). Currently a regular at Valencia after two years as a reserve to Buffon at Juventus Neto has just enjoyed probably the best season of his career in terms of individual performance.

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It was only his third full season as first choice in the last eight years. Two solid years as #1 at Fiorentina earned him a move to Juve. Two league & cup doubles later he moved on to Spain for £5.4m having played just 22 times for the Turin giants in his reserve role.

With three years remaining on his current deal Neto would likely command a fee between £5-10m. The question is whether or not he’d be willing to sacrifice a starting role to backup his fellow countryman Alisson.

The table above details some key statistics of the aforementioned contenders and includes both Karius and Mignolet for comparison purposes. All stats shown are taken from league games only. Ochoa & Casillas playing in leagues outside of the “Top 5” means their details are incomplete.

Punches, catches and saves made per game are all subjective and determined by both the quality of opposition and of the defence in front of any goalkeeper. That said they can still help to paint a picture of a goalkeepers quality. Ochoa made 4.3 saves p/game and conceded 82 goals for Granada, the bottom club in Spain in 2016/17. Meanwhile, former Red Pepe Reina only had to make 1.9 saves p/game for Napoli last year. This doesn’t necessarily make one better than the other.

Focusing to the right of the table and the xG figures we see a clear winner. Neto conceded 33 goals for Valencia but the xGA (via Understat) reveals that by the quality of shots faced he should have allowed 42.83. In short, this means he saved his team nearly 10 goals over the course of the season and such a differential puts him in the exalted company of only a select few including David De Gea, Jan Oblak and Liverpool’s own Alisson Becker.

It’s also interesting to note that Loris Karius clearly outperformed his Anfield rival Simon Mignolet though he did, of course, have the presence of Virgil Van Dijk to account for Liverpool’s marked defensive improvement over the second half of last season. Mignolet conceded nearly three more goals than he was expected to while Karius was slightly above par performing pretty much as expected.

Conclusion

Considering the argument put forth I would narrow my own personal choices down to just a select few.

•   Iker Casillas could be the perfect veteran mentor and role model for our young keepers and perhaps even our long-term goalkeeping coach.
•   René Adler, despite his injury struggles, could be a solid, low-cost backup that performs slightly below his xGA.
•   Neto would be the most expensive and least likely of the three but easily the best. Should LFC decide to rest Alisson at key stages throughout the season I’d be more comfortable with him stepping in for an important EPL or Champions League game than Casillas & Adler.

Though I’m against it I would not be surprised to see Liverpool choose to retain Karius as Alisson’s backup and attempt to nurture him back to form slowly at Melwood while only risking him in domestic cup games. I believe in Karius’ ability as a goalkeeper but hold reservations over his temperament, mental strength and concentration required at the very highest level.

With less than two weeks remaining in the transfer window whatever decision Jurgen Klopp makes will have to be made soon.

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