Loris Karius endured a nightmare night so where do Jurgen Klopp and Liverpool go from here?
Though Gareth Bale scored one of the great goals and Mohamed Salah left the field in tears in Saturday’s Champions League final in Kiev, it was Loris Karius who provided perhaps the enduring images of the evening. Expect his name to now become synonymous with the sort of blunders seldom seen at this level. At 24, it is not only a huge burden but also uncomfortable to think how long he may have to carry it.
These were the biggest of mistakes made in the biggest of moments. With that in mind, Karius deserves sympathy rather than ridicule. It was excruciating but oddly inspiring to see him feel compelled to face up to the situation, appearing to beg for forgiveness as he sheepishly made his way towards the Liverpool supporters upon the final whistle.
Some reciprocated with applause. His team-mates offered kind words too, unconvincingly insisting that they win together and they lose together. Mistakes happen. But while there were superficial similarities with Steven Gerrard’s slip that cost Liverpool their chance of winning the Premier League title four years ago, there was one big difference this time.
All of the reaction from Liverpool's Champions League final defeat to Real Madrid
In the case of Karius, there is the nagging suspicion that he should not have been in that position in the first place. That is what will gnaw away at Liverpool supporters. That is what makes this moment so frustrating. An uncharacteristic error that nobody could have predicted is one thing. An error easily anticipated and thus avoided is quite another.
«What can I say? Loris knows it, everybody knows it,» said Jurgen Klopp afterwards. «It is a shame in a game like this and after a season like this. I really feel for him. He’s a fantastic boy. Nobody wants that, [but] that’s the situation. The mistakes were obvious, we do not have to talk about that, it is all clear. He knows it. I know it. You all know it.»
Klopp might not want to talk about it but nevertheless he will need to do something about it. Karius had his moments for Liverpool this past season and just about did enough to satisfy his compatriot in the dugout that he had earned the right to the goalkeeper’s jersey ahead of Simon Mignolet. But few were convinced of his long-term credentials.
Jurgen Klopp and his Liverpool players backed Loris Karius, despite his two costly errors in the Champions League final
While a great goalkeeper oozes calm, the uncertainty of a lesser one can be infectious and there were too many worrying incidents. A punch here when a catch could have relieved the pressure. A fumble there that somehow went unpunished. The win over Roma was almost undermined when Karius could only deflect Aleksandar Kolarov’s shot onto the crossbar.
Liverpool got away with it then. Thanks to Sadio Mane’s equaliser, they almost got away with it in Kiev too. Perhaps if Salah had not been injured, Karius’s nightmare night would be a footnote amid the celebrations rather than the focus of so much ire. But instead, it caught up with him and his club in the final 45 minutes of the season. So what happens now?
A replacement had been likely even before the events of Saturday night. It is surely inevitable now. Suggestions that the issue should have been addressed in January will be floated. After all, many ‘keepers will be entitled to feel they could have avoided this calamity. Whether someone like Jack Butland would be a long-term solution is less clear.
It is a world-class goalkeeper that Liverpool really need if they are to move forwards. Alisson from Roma has long been touted as a possible arrival and if the Brazil No 1 could have anything like the impact that Ederson, his deputy for the national team, has enjoyed at Manchester City then that would be a positive step for the club.
In one sense, it is encouraging that there is such an obvious scope for improvement in a team that has just reached the Champions League final. A team that has already installed as the second favourites to win the Premier League next season. In another sense, however, that is little comfort for those who travelled to Kiev in the hope of seeing a sixth European Cup win.
That will be the mixed feeling that exists right now at Liverpool. The flame of optimism will not be extinguished for long. Pride still burns bright and there are plenty of reasons for positivity about what Klopp and his players can do next. But that does not change the fact that a big opportunity has been missed and the reason why is all too obvious.
For now, Klopp’s responsibility will be to build Karius back up. The human side takes precedent. «Now, he has to deal with it,» he added. «We have to deal with it. We will do that, of course. We will be with him, there’s no doubt about that.» That is only right. Unfortunately, it will be a process laced with regret and thoughts of what might have been.