All eyes will be on Loris Karius when Liverpool face Manchester City at MetLife Stadium in the International Champions Cup on Wednesday (8 p.m. ET, ESPN2 and ESPN Deportes). Preseason matches should be relaxed affairs as players ease themselves back to fitness after the summer break, but for the 25-year-old German goalkeeper, the pressure will be intense.
Karius is a man on borrowed time when it comes to his place in Jurgen Klopp’s first XI. New signing Alisson will take over goalkeeping duties in the team as soon as the Brazil international finishes his post-World Cup break — he’ll most likely feature against Napoli in Dublin next month. Until then, Karius will be under scrutiny. The games against Man City and then Manchester United on Saturday in Michigan Stadium (5 p.m. ET, ESPN and ESPN Deportes) could be crucial in determining his future.
It has been a dreadful few months for Karius. His catastrophic errors in the 3-1 defeat by Real Madrid in Kiev changed the trajectory of his career. On May 26, he was Liverpool’s goalkeeper of choice. Then six minutes into the second half of the Champions League final, Karius rolled the ball into the path of Karim Benzema. Since then, his professional life has spun out of control.
In the wake of Kiev, Karius has never been far from the headlines. After the final, it emerged that he was suffering from a concussion, an injury likely inflicted by Sergio Ramos’ elbow before the goalkeeper’s first catastrophic mistake. No one should doubt the veracity of the diagnosis — doctors do not make up this sort of thing — but the news did Karius no favours. It was a public relations disaster that brought even more unsympathetic scrutiny of his subsequent performances.
Unfortunately, the strain is beginning to show. Karius has made a number of gaffes during preseason. He was skittish during Liverpool’s 3-1 defeat vs. Borussia Dortmund in Charlotte and was somewhat unfairly blamed for the Bundesliga club’s third goal. After the game, Karius posted on Instagram about pitying those “who take joy at seeing other people fail.” The post was out of character for a young man who has hardly lacked confidence since his arrival on Merseyside from Mainz two years ago.
It would be wrong to read too much into Karius’ social media riposte to his critics, yet his self-belief has been undermined by a series of blunders and Klopp’s swiftness in paying £66 million for his replacement. It is a challenging time for the goalkeeper.
No other position in football requires as much mental strength as keeping goal. Outfield players can make numerous errors that are barely noticed. Goalkeeping mistakes are more visible and are punished more brutally. Karius was a work in progress even after he took over from Simon Mignolet as Liverpool’s No.1. His concentration wavered on occasion, but during matches he had the ability and confidence to put blunders out of his mind. The best goalkeepers revisit their mistakes after the game and spend hours fine-tuning their technique. Karius has perhaps lacked a little attention to detail and has relied too much on his physical abilities, which are prodigious.
When Alisson finally arrives, Karius will be taken out of the spotlight. The lesson of this summer is that he needs to keep a low profile and work on the flaws in his game. His reaction to this series of setbacks will determine his future path. In June, Karius posted on social media an ill-advised, glamorous video of his adventures on holiday in Los Angeles. It didn’t help his cause. It would arguably have made more sense to redouble his efforts in training and not draw any attention to himself until he had reestablished his reputation as a reliable goalkeeper.
It’s hard to see Karius rebuilding his career at Anfield, but there are a number of reasons for Klopp to believe it is worth persisting with him. He is still young for a goalkeeper and has plenty of scope for development. Plus, for all the obvious issues, the German is still an upgrade on Mignolet. Working with a top-class goalkeeper in Alisson could help the backup improve both technically and intellectually. It will take a lot to regain the manager’s trust, and that of the Anfield crowd, but time is on his side.
The other option is for Karius to leave Anfield. Although he only cost £4.5m from Mainz, it is difficult to imagine a queue of potential buyers at the moment. A loan move may benefit Karius, but Liverpool would have to pay most, if not all, of his wages. A return to Germany would make sense for the player, but it would leave Klopp needing to buy another goalkeeper after Danny Ward’s sale to Leicester City.
The downside of keeping Karius is that an injury to Alisson could catapult the German back into the team at any moment. It’s a gamble that could go horribly wrong, but there are enough pluses to make the risk worth taking.
The games against Man City and Man United may be mere friendlies, but they are vital for Karius. He needs to show that he has fortitude to match his swagger. Therefore, his long road to redemption starts in New Jersey.
Tony Evans has been a sports journalist for more than 20 years. He writes for ESPN FC on the Premier League. Twitter: @tonyevans92a.