Although it may be stating the obvious at this point, Liverpool completed a fantastic piece of business today by completing the signing of Loris Karius from Mainz. For a mere £4.7m, Liverpool brought in a 22 year old keeper who is already a fantastic shot stopper, yet has the potential to become one of the best keepers in Europe. Karius may not be developed enough to overtake Simon Mignolet from the onset of the season, but it is widely believed that Karius should be able to earn the number one spot in between the sticks in the relatively near future. Here is what Karius will immediately bring to the Liverpool side, including certain areas he can improve.
Karius’ biggest strength is his excellent shot stopping abilities. Recording an average of 2.53 saves per match, Karius has an innate ability to make incredible reflex saves. Furthermore, Karius made an average of 2.1 saves per goal, besting Mignolet’s average of 1.27. Karius’ shot stopping abilities helped him receive the third highest vote total from fans for the title of best keeper in the Bundesliga. At 22 years old, being voted as the third best keeper in the highest tier of German football is a tremendous accolade. Players such as Manuel Neuer, Timo Horn Bernd Leno Roman Weidenfeller and others all compete in the Bundesliga, and Karius outperformed all but two of them. While Karius vastly outperforms Mignolet in the Belgian’s supposed strongest area of shot stopping, Karius is also better in the command of the 18-yard box—a vital trait required to succeed as a keeper under Jürgen Klopp. Karius recorded a claim success rate of 96%, far better than Mignolet’s mark of 82%. Liverpool fans can easily recall at least five instances just this season alone where Mignolet failed to collect a cross that directly contributed to an opposition goal. Karius’ superiority in this vital area of goalkeeping will be a welcome change for Reds fans who have grown tired of watching Mignolet’s errors. However, Karius is not the finished product at 22 years old and there are areas where he can improve.
At this stage of his career, Karius is actually very similar to the keeper Mignolet. Both players excel in shot stopping but can significantly improve their distribution and tendency to punch rather than hold crosses. Karius’ passing is by far his biggest area in need of improvement. The German recorded an underwhelming pass accuracy of 54.1%. In terms of long passes, Karius’s average distance was 40 meters, but his accuracy was only 60% in this area of his distribution. In comparison, Mignolet’s average distance was two meters less, but his accuracy was 6% higher. In order for Karius to reach his potential in goal, the German needs to make significant strides in this area of his game. Giving possession over to the opposing team unnecessarily can be very damaging. Especially in Klopp’s gegenpressing system, Karius’ inaccuracy can result in unneeded pressing and fatigue that can make a difference late in a match. Plus, against top level teams, allowing the opposition the bulk of the possession gives opponents the ability to generate more chances and get into a rhythm with their passing. Karius really needs to improve this aspect of his game to avoid the unnecessary giveaways.
When handling crosses and balls in the box, Karius’ claim success rate is very good but he has a tendency to punch the ball away rather than holding the ball. Karius punches 44% of the time compared to Mignolet’s 38%. Deciding between punching the ball and holding can be the difference in closely contested matches. A punch does not always completely clear the ball, subsequently giving back possession to the opposition right back in the attacking area of the pitch. Although it is not always his fault if the defense allows an opponent to create a scoring chance off a strong punch, if Karius can learn to catch the ball and relieve the pressure on his defense, I’m sure the Reds will concede a few less goals every season. At only 22, Karius has plenty of time to improve his catching and distribution. Many of Liverpool’s matches this next season will likely not come down to the minute detail of a couple uncompleted passes, but if Karius wishes to firmly supplant Mignolet as Liverpool’s number one, he needs to improve these two aspects of his game.
Karius may not be the perfect, well-rounded keeper that will immediately be on the level of Petr Cech or David de Gea in the Premier League, but his tremendous natural ability should lead to him fulfilling the meaning his new kit number (the famous number one). His penchant for making tremendous saves is something that cannot be taught, whereas his weaknesses are things that can improve with development. Karius will provide strong competition to Mignolet that has been lacking ever since the Belgian’s arrival and Pepe Reina’s subsequent departure. Even though Karius may not overtake Mignolet right away, he will create a good competition for the number one spot before becoming the full time starter. If Karius puts in the effort to improve the subtler aspects of his game, there is no doubt he will become one of the best keepers in England and potentially all of Europe.