It’s very much part of Jurgen Klopp’s schtick to portray himself as an eccentric, the slightly mad footballing professor, so it was no real surprise ahead of this week’s League Cup ties when he said, “I’m not sure the world is ready for such a crazy decision, a third goalkeeper in one season! Danny Ward will play”.
Now Danny Ward is a very accomplished goalkeeper as he has shown in loan spells away from Anfield and there’s no reason to suggest he would be anything but a safe pair of hands as he proved with a couple of good saves in Liverpool’s 2-0 defeat at Leicester. But Klopp, he doth protest too much, because it genuinely was a crazy decision, albeit one that is in vogue with so many clubs these days.
We’ve become used to clubs putting out “changed” (weakened) teams in the domestic cups for too long now to be that surprised by anything they do in that regard. Yes, it is possible to understand why players who are regulars, especially for club AND country, might appreciate a chance to rest weary limbs one midweek, but how has this extended to goalkeepers? What running around do they do that so exhausts them?
Ok, you could argue you that they can get mentally tired from concentration, but given that is one of the most important skills in their armoury, that ability to focus, then playing games would surely only help keep them in the zone?
The real truth is that in most cases, it stems from weak management. The League Cup appearance is tossed out as a sop to the big lad who warms the bench every week, just to keep him happy. I would have thought that a big fat contract for four mornings work a week plus a comfy chair every Saturday afternoon would be more than enough to keep them happy anyway and, in most cases, it clearly is because very few of these second – or third – choice really throw themselves into their cup opportunity. Most give the impression during such games that they’d rather be anywhere else than between the sticks.
Where goalkeepers at a club are so closely matched that you can’t get a cigarette paper between them, perhaps – and only perhaps – there’s something in the idea but really, how much? Sorry, but if you’re not as good as the other goalkeeper, I don’t want you playing in my team unless the other bloke is in traction in hospital. As a fan, do you want to see Romero in for de Gea, Ospina for Cech, Grant for Butland or Hamer for Scmeichel? If your team battles through to the quarters or the semis, do you really want your chance of a cup final and a day out at Wembley left in the hands of somebody whose hands are second or third best?
Going back to Liverpool specifically, just what is Klopp saying about his priorities? Logically, you have to assume that the guy who plays Premier League, Mignolet, is the one he most relies on given that he gets 38 games. Karius doesn’t, presumably, fill him with such confidence. In which case, isn’t Klopp saying the Champions League is less of a priority by playing him, a dangerous game at a club whose reputation has been made in that competition? And if Ward can’t even get on the bench in normal circumstances, how can we possibly take him and Liverpool seriously in the domestic cups? Defeat, unlucky as it was after their first half dominance, was surely a dose of instant karma.
Beyond that, given Liverpool’s defensive frailties, I’d be inclined to play the same goalkeeper and defence as often as possible in whatever competition there is just to give them chance to work it out. Once again at Leicester they conceded after failing to deal with a corner properly. But how will they ever work that out if they continually chop and change at the back and between the sticks?
And what if Ward had had an absolute blinder, pulled off a dozen world class saves? Would it be back to the second string after that? If so, where’s the incentive to do well? Play like Buffon, Shilton and Yashin rolled into one and it’s back to the U23s? What’s the point? Yet if he were to stay in the side, is that fair on the other two who’ve done nothing wrong, haven’t genuinely been dropped, just “rotated”.
Seems like a situation where in trying to keep everybody happy, you actually please nobody, especially the travelling Kop who watched their side go out of a competition in which they are the record holders for most wins? Klopp may be popular with the Red Army, but nobody can afford to squander goodwill quite as easily as that.