Football News: Liverpool FC - A Defensive Review, Part 1

 

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Liverpool FC - A Defensive Review, Part 1
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It probably goes without saying, that most of this will be difficult reading if you're a Liverpool fan. In terms of sugar coating things, I could glaze over celery and convince you it is a Krispy Crème. However, I'm not sure even the most die hard supporter with his favourite pair of red tinted spectacles on could make a silk purse out of the sows ear I'm about to analyse!

So we begin with the goal keepers. Firstly, the way this position is being managed is incompetence at best and negligence at worst. Jurgen Klopp has made some bad decisions at the club, but this tops them all. It is clear, that Jurgen does not rate Simon Mignolet. In his time at the club he has signed Loris Karius, and retained the services of Danny Ward. So the obvious question is why on earth is Mignolet still playing in the most important games; the Premier League?

Only Klopp can answer this one but in my personal opinion, he should stop the rotation, drop Mignolet for good, and give Ward the shirt for every game until the summer. That would instantly improve Liverpool's defensive unit. If neither Ward nor Karius can prove they are good enough, the club needs to move on and be ruthless. This is the most important position on the pitch, and it is currently doubling as Liverpool's weakest link.

Simon Mignolet:
Mignolet has now been at Anfield for 4 years. In that time he has been part of a very real title challenge under Brendan Rodgers, and built one of the best penalty saving records in the Premier League. He was signed from Sunderland FC after demonstrating some seemingly excellent shot stopping capabilities. However, he has completely regressed since joining Liverpool. That is not to say he was even that great at Sunderland though. It is only logical that goalkeepers playing in teams who concede more shots on goal, will make more saves and pull off the occasional great save.



Mignolet has always been very poor with his distribution, has no command of his area, and tries and get his hands down to shots blasted straight at his feet. He also seems to be a bit of a coward in one on one situations. Rather than spread his body and risk taking a hit, he tends to position himself to the side of players and hope to nick it away from their feet with an outstretched arm or foot. He has either been coached terribly, or he is simply scared. He certainly looked scared when he dangled a foot in front of Jamie Vardy earlier in the season. Luckily, his excellent penalty record was extended to bail him out. This technique of Mignolet's makes it far too easy to simply take the ball around him and slot into an open net. Sergio Aguero could've been blind folded for the opening goal at the Etihad this season and he'd still have gone round Mignolet without a touch.

The final nail in the coffin for me is that Mignolet is no longer making the occasional great save, like he did at Sunderland. He only makes saves he should make, and seems to concede at least a goal a week where you are left thinking that at the very least he could've done better. His wrists sometimes look like they're made of the same rubber that his ankles are made from. A more mentality related criticism of him is that he is just too nice. When a keeper concedes a goal due to a defender making a howler, you want him to be tearing into them (assuming it isn't a teenager on his debut) but Mignolet just picks the ball out the net and lets it slide. He doesn't fill anybody with confidence, he doesn't command respect, and the harsh reality of it is, he is not a Premier League level goal keeper.

Still, Mignolet is Liverpool's first choice keeper for the season and that does not look like changing. For now, we simply have to watch and pray.

Loris Karius:
When Karius signed for Liverpool, he came with a great reputation. He was regarded by many as the second best keeper in Germany at the time, and only to Manuel Neuer. Initially, he looked like a massive upgrade on Mignolet and Liverpool fans breathed a huge collective sigh of relief. His kicking is excellent, although his confidence on the ball has nearly got him in trouble a few times. He is a better shot stopper than Mignolet by far, and he seems to be slightly more vocal even though he was relatively young and in a new country. He is probably one of the best sweeper keepers in the league already as he excels in stopping one on one opportunities with his quick and decisive movements off of his line. However it all faded very quickly.



It soon came to light that Karius has a glaring weakness which is probably the worst you can have in the Premier League; his handling. He started literally dropping crosses at the feet of attackers, particularly crosses floated high to his back post. He also fumbled the odd shot. This went on for around 8-10 games and he just kept getting away with it. If he dropped it, he just about recovered or a defender cleared, and on the odd occasion where it resulted in a goal it got ruled out for a foul. He was doing this at least once a week. Fortunate was an under statement.

So therefore it came as no surprise when he spilled a shot in the dying moments against 'little' Bournemouth, which was gobbled up by Nathan Ake of all people. That mistake resulted in a 4-3 defeat for Liverpool and Karius duely became the fans new scapegoat. As harsh as it seemed getting dropped after his first mistake (that was punished), it was not exactly a mistake out of the blue. However, the media and the fans, who all had Karius under an electron microscope thanks to the precedent set by Mignolet, jumped straight on his back. Klopp felt he had to drop him to protect his career. He was around 22 at the time and it got shamefully (for the fans) abusive, particularly on (you guessed it) social media. In hindsight, Klopp should've backed him.

He has started the new season as the Champions League goalkeeper, but his Anfield career looks like a ticking time bomb to be frank. The fans just haven't taken to him, and the media are in "witch hunt" mode every time he plays.

Danny Ward:
Ward, in stark contrast to the above, has enjoyed a great couple of seasons. He spent half a season on loan at Aberdeen, and quickly became a bit of a hero. He put in some stunning displays which endeared him towards the Scottish fans, but also helped his team to being Celtic's closest title rivals. He was inexplicably hooked back to Liverpool in January to sit on the bench though.

In the following season, Karius joined Liverpool which saw Ward become third choice at Liverpool. He went off to Huddersfield on loan in the Championship, and this time his season would be uninterrupted. Under Klopp's best man, David Wagner, Ward really showed his true capabilities. He was a regular man of the match candidate, pulling off a string of saves game after game, and garnering a reputation as one of the Championship's most reliable goal keepers, making just a handful of mistakes. He almost single handedly pulled Huddersfield through the play offs keeping multiple clean sheets, and producing a simply stunning display in the Final penalty shoot out.

It is therefore no surprise that Huddersfield wanted him in goal for their maiden Premier League campaign, or that Klopp wanted him at Liverpool for the current season. What is a surprise though, is that Ward has played just once in the League Cup. In his short career to date, he has demonstrated leadership and a command of his area that Liverpool's alternative options can only dream of. He has proven his kicking is a match for Karius at least, and he has shown some simply sensational reflexes to stop shots he has no right to be stopping.



Ward is not without his flaws though. He is still young for a keeper like Karius, but he does tend to struggle with shots which move in the air. Be that a dipping shot or a swerving shot, he doesn't seem confident when dealing with them. At youth level I saw him concede some horrible goals like this. One that sticks in the memory was a 20 yard dipping shot that went through him at his near post against West Brom. Liverpool seniors though, don't tend to give away shots like that, at least not regularly. They play such a high line that teams tend to get in behind quite easily, and they are so poor at defending in the penalty area that most of the goals conceded are scrappy second balls in the box; scrappy goals that Ward has proven he excels in stopping with his excellent reflexes and agility.

Ward's ability to claim crosses comparatively effortlessly to the alternatives at the club, makes him in my opinion, the superior choice on that basis alone. He suits Liverpool's style of play to a tee. If Liverpool were a compact defensive unit who forced the opposition into shooting from range with a deep back line, i would say Ward was not suitable and Karius was a slightly better option. It would expose Ward's main weakness. For how Liverpool play though, he is the clear stand out option. I can only assume Klopp is protecting him from the fans, or that Ward just doesn't train well.

Ward is yet to play a single bad game for Liverpool's first team (though it's a small pool of games to analyse) and he will leave if he is going to be resigned to the FA cup duties only for the rest of this season. He is better than that. Once his current injury has cleared up, he should be knocking on Klopp's door and demanding answers, because he could be playing every week for Huddersfield right now. As a player to come through Liverpool's academy after making the switch from Wrexham, the fans would no doubt love to see him become a regular. He won't wait forever though.

Adam Bogdan:
No, seriously. He is still at the club. Bogdan is not a terrible keeper, but he is at a level which is beyond him. He is a Championship keeper at best. He is capable of flying saves, but aside from that he really isn't of the required quality. As a third or fourth choice, he is okay so it is hard to be overly critical. However i prefer my third choice keeper to be either a young player with potential (someone like Kamil Grabara perhaps?) or an experienced head who can help the younger players out with advice.

Bogdan is on borrowed time really. He will probably be sold as soon as possible as it just hasn't worked out for him. He quite literally dropped an absolutely clanger against Watford when he threw a corner into his own net and to be honest, it was all over then for him at Anfield. He should be looking to play regularly at his age and I'm sure he will, so there is not a lot of point in delving too deeply into his flaws. This simply is not his level.

So that is the goal keeping position reviewed. Part 2, featuring the centre backs will follow later in the week, before a final Part 3 instalment to cover both full back areas.

Written by Adam Jones.

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