For the first time since his appointment as manager in October 2015, Jurgen Klopp actively sought to clear up the confusion. “He is the No. 1 and that means he can play a game and can concede a goal,” the Liverpool manager said in January. “But, of course, Loris has to deliver and he knows that.”
The manager had previously been reticent to choose his favourite goalkeeping child. “It is like it is and nothing is decided,” Klopp said back in July when asked who would start the season in goal. “We have three goalkeepers and they can all show what they are able to do.”
Instead of reducing the field to one, he added a third contender in Danny Ward. It was a wonder that the German had not left the door slightly ajar for Adam Bogdan to bundle through too.
But the idea was simple: by creating an atmosphere of competition, Karius, Ward and Simon Mignolet could bring the best out of one another. With the stakes high, standards would theoretically be raised higher.
There is a reason no other club towards the top of the Premier League table adopts a similar approach. Sergio Romero is aware that David de Gea is his superior, just as Claudio Bravo acknowledges he is Ederson’s understudy. Michel Vorm is second to Hugo Lloris, just as Thibaut Courtois is the master and Willy Caballero the apprentice, at least in terms of quality. Creating a hierarchy of starter and back-up is eminently more effective in getting the best out of both as opposed to maintaining the facade of a level playing field.
The answer may be that De Gea, Ederson, Lloris and Courtois are simply better than Karius, which makes their respective manager’s decision far easier. Yet against Southampton, Liverpool’s new No 1 illustrated why he is deserving of Klopp’s new-found faith over Mignolet.
There was the aggressive, proactive method to keeping out Pierre-Emil Hojbjerg, and the instinctive save from James Ward-Prowse’s header. There was the distribution to start the move for Roberto Firmino’s opener, and the sort of decisiveness in goal that has been sorely lacking. There was a performance as assured as the one against Tottenham last week, but with the added bonus of a deserved clean sheet.
Southampton’s main chances came immediately after Firmino’s goal in the sixth minute, and the usual script had Liverpool squandering their lead, wasting chances and eventually conceding. For the first time in a long time, they had a goalkeeper able to swing the momentum in their favour, maintaining their advantage and allowing the forwards to finally capitalise.
Karius stands to finally benefit from some consistency in Klopp’s goalkeeping decisions. The longest run of consecutive Premier League starts any keeper has made under the German was the 25 by Mignolet from December 2016 to August 2017, but the Belgian no longer has credit in the bank. Karius, as a Klopp signing, and a player still acclimatising to the Premier League, does.
This was his fifth straight Premier League start, and he has gradually improved with each game. From four goals conceded in six shots on target against Manchester City and Swansea to two goals conceded in nine shots on target against Huddersfield, Tottenham and Southampton is one step forward, but at least the expectation is not for two backwards ones to quickly follow. He now has a respectable seven clean sheets in 18 league appearances in England.
Firmino and Mohamed Salah will demand the plaudits, and rightfully so, considering the former’s ludicrous assist for the latter at St Mary’s. Karius made enough headlines in his debut season, so thriving away from the limelight is no bad thing.