Jurgen Klopp faces a difficult balancing act keeping Caoimhin Kelleher happy as Liverpool’s No. 2 goalkeeper, but a start in the League Cup final is part of the plan.
Kelleher has now made six appearances for the Reds this season, more than in each of the previous two campaigns, as the Irishman excels in his role as Alisson‘s backup.
Such is his level of performance that there have been suggestions that the 23-year-old won’t stay at Liverpool for the long term, as his quality arguably warrants a No. 1 spot.
He showed his commitment to the long-term project at Anfield, however, when he signed a new five-year contract in the summer, and he has earned the trust of Klopp and his coaching staff.
Three of his six starts so far this term have come in the League Cup, with the manager stressing that it is “his competition,” though Alisson took over for the semi-final first leg against Arsenal having missed two weeks due to COVID-19.
At other clubs, managers will revert to their first-choice goalkeeper for cup finals, but Klopp insists Kelleher will start against Chelsea on February 27.
“Caoimh will play, if he’s fit,” he told reporters.
“As a football manager, you obviously have to consider a lot of things. We consider Caoimh as an outstanding goalie. Not a good goalie, an outstanding goalie.
“And we want to keep him here, and to keep him here you need to make sure of a few things. The different games he will get, before a season you think about it, you talk about it.
“It’s all about performing, of course – if he wouldn’t have performed on the level he performed when he played, I would maybe see it differently.
“But he shows that he deserves all the trust and faith that we have in him. That’s the situation.”
Klopp’s suggestion is that Liverpool will continue to take steps to convince Kelleher he will get the opportunities he deserves at his current club, rather than seeking a move away.
But with Alisson having signed a new contract of his own in the summer, it is hard to shake the belief that, at some stage, the No. 2 will either need to take over as No. 1 or push for the exit.
As the manager explained, Kelleher is already showing he has the mentality to challenge Alisson, pointing to his response in a conversation over the Brazilian starting against Arsenal.
“My idea in this moment is Caoimhin will play [in the final]. Let’s see until then, but I don’t see any reason why we shouldn’t do it,” Klopp continued.
“Because Caoimh deserves that, he brought the team there.
“Last week against Arsenal, I had to explain to Caoimh why he’s not playing.
“I usually don’t do that, it’s clear I usually don’t explain to Caoimh why he’s not playing in the Premier League, but it was his competition and I thought Ali needs the game, because of lacking rhythm after Covid and all these kinds of things.
“What I really liked [was] Caoimh was not like ‘oh yeah, I understand’. He was like ‘why?’.
“So he matures in all departments – and that’s good, that’s absolutely good. That’s exactly the goalie we wanted.
“I said it before, it’s really a John Achterberg project. Because when I came here, not all of the people in the club were thinking ‘oh yeah, Caoimh Kelleher will be the next one’.
“There was one person and it was John.
“He’s a goalie who if you have to buy him, he’s really expensive. We now have the best in the world and a really, really good one. That’s a good situation.”