Why Loris Karius should start for Liverpool next season
A thorough analysis of Liverpool's two main keepers for the season.
With Loris Karius set to miss Germany’s Olympic ventures, his availability has brought Mignolet’s position between the sticks into question. Statistical comparison of the two keepers puts Karius ahead in every aspect with the exception of distribution; a reality that has seemingly all but confirmed him as the Belgian’s replacement.
The 2016-17 pre-season will eventually determine who gets the go ahead against Arsenal on Match Day 1 of the Premiere League Season. It’s absolutely essential that in our analysis, we not only compare the players statistically, but we determine the type of keeper the Liverpool team requires.
A Defensive Organiser
Liverpool’s backline has been characterised by haphazardness and the inherent ability to self-implode. The players tend to be unsettled, out of position or plagued with errors and poor decision making. A vocal keeper with the ability to direct the defence (whether it be at set pieces or defending against an oncoming counter attack) will only improve Liverpool’s defensive capabilities.
The Liverpool keeper must communicate with his backline; pointing out players to mark during set pieces, pushing his defenders up the pitch when in possession and using his perception to point out positional issues, possible outlays or interceptive play. Liverpool will look to establish a strong partnership in their core next season, and a keeper with these traits are essential to the establishment of a formidable defence.
Mignolet has improved vocally since January, barking at his Liverpool defence during their periods of inept gameplay. This has been due to instructions from his goalkeeping coach, which has inadvertently brought a ‘nastier’ side to his game. With limited visual analysis on Karius available, various articles have pointed out similar traits in the Mainz No. 1, who appears to be more lively and commanding than his new rival.
The German is often seen marshalling his troops, who, in comparison to Liverpool’s back four are more susceptible from open play. Despite his best efforts, Mainz were often left wide open with simple through balls or balls over the top. The level of defensive organisation deployed is highly dependent on the relationship between your central defenders. The keeper’s insight is also essential but it's only one piece of the puzzle. Though Simon’s knowledge of the Premier League may prove vital, Loris currently looks the more capable coordinator.
A Commander and Composer
The modern keeper has added aerial prowess to his game, a trait which has revolutionised the sport. Keepers come off their lines for crosses, powering above all players to retrieve the ball or hack it clear of their area. It is an essential skill, one of the many assets that characterise a world class keeper.
For the Liverpool keeper, the 6-yard box must be his own. His decision making is critical; he must aptly judge the flight of the ball and have the confidence to catch or clear the ball when a cross comes in. If he stays on his line, he must remain aware of the ball’s position if required to make a save. Another attribute of the modern keeper is his presence as an extra player going forward. Liverpool’s keeper must display confidence with the ball at his feet, remaining calm under pressure. His distribution is key, as accuracy reduces the number of offensive plays from the opposition and assists with initiating attacks going forward. These features will spur confidence throughout the team and are qualities of the top keepers across Europe.
This is where Mignolet falls short. Several mistakes over the past 2 seasons have all but completely destroyed his confidence. His decision making is questionable, often over or under committing to crosses (a claim success of 82%). There are times when he is bullied when coming for crosses, failing to get anything sufficient on the ball.
His most recurrent weakness is his distribution, often giving away possession with lacklustre long balls or misplacing passes when under pressure. Mignolet has made 10 errors leading to goals over the past three seasons. Four in the last season alone. Karius who has played the same amount of time in Bundesliga made none last season and 2 in his last 3 seasons.
Interestingly, Loris appears to have similar issues. When under pressure, he tends to fault in his distribution as well, a concern seeing his distribution accuracy is less in comparison to the Belgian International (60% to 68%). Notably, Karius hits the ball further up the pitch (40m on average in comparison to 32m from Simon) which may reduce his value for accuracy. He tends to take more risks when going for the ball, preferring to catch the ball (2.38 per game) than to strike it away (0.47 punches per game) and this comes at a claim success of 96%. His high claim success however, means he’s more likely to spur a counter attack after a corner as he retains possession. There are times when he opts to stay on the line when play would have preferred him to intervene and claim the high ball, but his confidence on the ball exposes one of the major faults of Liverpool’s current man between the sticks.
Mignolet at 2 inches taller and 8 kg heavier doesn’t appear self-assured. He appears lost among the players in the box, failing to establish himself in his area. His distribution may make him the better composer, but Loris shows maturity years beyond his senior. A commander in the making.
A Consistently Dependable Stopper
The previous statistics are important, but at the end of the day, a keeper’s main job is to prevent the opposition from scoring. To put this into perspective, David De Gea (easily the best goalkeeper in the Premier League) has a distribution accuracy of 62%, 2.5 catches per game and 0.38 punches per game. De Gea’s ability to single handily win matches for Manchester United is due to his world class shot stopping ability, much to the chagrin of strikers across the league (2.45 saves per game). Liverpool’s keeper must not only save simple and difficult chances but must win matches by pulling off fantastic saves, inspiring the team to step up their performance as well.
Say what you may about Mignolet being a world class shot stopper, his statistics confirm an alarming fact. Many times I’ve questioned whether or not Mignolet could have done a little better. Liverpool’s defence has been more organised since Klopp’s arrival allowing fewer shots on target and reducing chances. Whenever Mignolet is called on, he seems less than capable. Whether it be due to his positioning or lack of focus, he’s unreliable. The ironic reality is that he often pulls off top draw stops, only to allow simpler chances by him (think the Capital Cup Final). It’s all but confirmed in his save per goal ratio, 1.27 saves per goal. 1.27. At one point he had conceded 7 goals from 8 shots across two matches, alarming for your number one choice between the posts. He may be a world-class shot-stopper on his day, but his day doesn’t come often enough.
It can be argued that Mainz would have been a few places lower than they currently are without the German under-21 international. At a save per goal ratio of 2.10, with a weaker defence and a league known for goals, he’s done a top job. He may only have 9 clean sheets compared to Mignolet’s 11, but you have to take one more shot on average to get past him; that says it all. They may have conceded the same number of goals this season, but Mainz conceded far more shots (13.9 per game) than Liverpool’s defence (10.5) throughout the 2015/16 season.
Karius is more decisive and better positioned than Mignolet, often coming off his line to thwart the opposition. It might be indecision or poor technique, but Simon isn’t up to scratch. The arrangement of your defence and the position from where the shot is taken has to be taken into consideration, but Mignolet’s fall in form means he’s currently not good enough for a top-tier European team. When that first shot comes in, it’s more likely that Karius would prevent a 1-0 scoreline.
The truth is at the age of 22 and limited experience in the Premier League, he might not usurp Mignolet right away. However, stats don’t lie and a good pre-season may allow him to stake a claim. With Mignolet under pressure from a potential world class keeper, his gameplay should improve. Our defenders will have a lot to do if we are to establish a compact defensive line. Concede less, win more. The equation is simple. Currently, Karius looks the part.