Loris Karius endured a rollercoaster campaign that ended in collapse on the biggest stage, leaving his Liverpool future in doubt heading into 2018/19.
The Reds have struggled for a consistent, top-level goalkeeper since the decline of Pepe Reina, as question marks loom over the club’s recruitment in a key position.
Simon Mignolet has wavered since taking over from Reina in 2013, with the Belgian dealt warning shots with Brendan Rodgers and Jurgen Klopp handing Brad Jones and Adam Bogdan ill-fated stints between the sticks.
Karius’ arrival from Mainz in 2016 was intended to provide Klopp with the solution, with his compatriot voted the second-best goalkeeper in the Bundesliga the season prior.
It didn’t work out that way for Karius in 2016/17, but the manager produced a major show of faith by demoting Mignolet in January, and was rewarded with an improvement from his No. 1.
That came to a halt in Kyiv, however, with Karius’ performance in the Champions League final souring all progress made in the preceding five months.
Loris Karius, 2017/18
Started: 33 (All competitions)
On as a substitute: 0
Unused sub: 22
Clean sheets: 16
Goals conceded: 31
Average TIA Player Rating: 6.54 (Rank: 9th)
With Danny Ward returning from a productive loan spell with Huddersfield Town during their promotion campaign, Klopp was presented with a positive dilemma during pre-season.
“We have three goalkeepers and they can all show what they are able to do, and then we will see who will start,” he insisted in July, throwing down the gauntlet to the trio.
Though this proved to be lip service for Ward, who only featured in one warmup clash against Atletico Madrid, he was true to his word with Karius and Mignolet, who made four appearances each.
Karius made only three outings on the domestic stage before the turn of the year, conceding just one goal and keeping two clean sheets, including in the 4-0 mauling of Arsenal at home.
Instead, he was able to hone his game in the Champions League, with the Reds handed a comfortable group in Sevilla, Spartak Moscow and Maribor.
This proved to be a tough trial for Karius, as a reintroduction to the demands of a goalkeeper in a dominant side; with little to do, his concentration was tested, and he largely impressed.
But playing once every two weeks was not ideal for his development, and Klopp ultimately changed tack on the turn of the year.
Triumph to Tragedy
With Liverpool playing 14 games in just 49 days from mid-November to the start of January, averaging one every 3.5 days, Klopp’s rotation was essential.
But after weathering that ridiculous run, winning nine and drawing five, the manager made the bold call of reinstating Karius as first-choice goalkeeper in both league and Europe.
He did so for a huge clash, with Man City visiting Anfield looking to heap misery on the Reds after the 5-0 humiliation at the Etihad in September, serving as staunch backing for the 24-year-old.
Karius produced a reasonable display, but was beaten at his near post by Leroy Sane to cancel out Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain‘s opener, with Liverpool’s second-half masterclass masking this slip-up to win 4-3.
“He’s the No. 1, he might make mistakes but this is life,” Klopp told German outlet DAZN DE after the game. “We will not make any changes. When it comes to goalkeepers you have to make a decision and stick with it.”
This was the support Karius needed after a difficult maiden campaign on Merseyside, in which he had struggled after breaking his hand during pre-season and drawing widespread criticism.
He certainly improved, with his front-footed approach, quick, decisive distribution and growing command of the penalty area a major upgrade on the timid efforts of his predecessor.
But tragedy struck in Kyiv, as Karius failed in the biggest game of his career so far.
Heading into the Reds’ clash with Real Madrid he had kept the most clean sheets of any goalkeeper in the Champions League (six), one more than summer target Alisson.
Real stopper Keylor Navas had registered just two shut-outs having made one less appearance, and speaking in the buildup to the trip to Ukraine, Klopp predicted “a lot to come” from Karius.
Unfortunately, after a bright first half that saw him deny Cristiano Ronaldo from point-blank range, Karius made two bizarre errors to cost Liverpool their sixth European Cup.
The first saw him rolling the ball directly into Karim Benzema’s outstretched foot for Real’s opener, before dropping a long-range effort from Gareth Bale over the line to seal a 3-1 defeat.
After the game Karius approached the travelling Kop in tears, isolated in his agony, and though he was delivered a rousing rendition of You’ll Never Walk Alone in response, outside perspectives were much different.
Karius heads into the summer uncertain of his future, and while Klopp was vocal in his belief before Kyiv, it remains to be seen whether that has changed since.
Improvements & Future Role
Left out of the Germany squad for the World Cup despite goalkeeping coach Andreas Kopke revealing that “he was on our list,” Karius faces an immense mental barrier during the off-season.
Signing off after the final with a heartfelt apology, vowing to “come back stronger,” it is unlikely supporters will be party to one of his regular trips to the United States.
Instead, his next appearance will likely come during pre-season, if Klopp hasn’t prompted a drastic overhaul of his options between the sticks, and there lies a big challenge for the No. 1.
The raw qualities are there, as Karius proved after taking over from Mignolet—averaging fewer games per clean sheet (2.1) than any Liverpool ‘keeper since Reina in 2008/09—but with his confidence torn he needs to shake off his demons in order to rally.
If Klopp does stay true to his assertion that “you have to make a decision and stick with it” the hope will be that Karius is given the backing of the Kop.
Until pre-season kicks off in July, or even when the new campaign gets underway a month later, there will be little clarity over Karius’ future.
The impression is, however, that he will either stay as No. 1 or be usurped entirely.
Best Moment: Stunning save to deny Mohamed Diame at Anfield.
Worst Moment: Calamitous second half in the Champions League.
Role next season: Either No. 1 or out the door.
2017/18 player-by-player reviews