So Liverpool have signed Loris Karius, a 22-year old goalkeeper with a plentiful range of tattoos, a fringe to rival Edinburgh, and a friendship with Justin Bieber to boot. Having put pen to paper on a 5-year deal, the question for Kloppite Koppites the world over becomes a simple one: Is it too late now to say sorry Karius any good?
The young Belieber is indisputably highly rated, having been considered the second best Bundesliga ‘keeper behind only Manuel Neuer in a poll of his fellow pros. At a price tag of £4.75m, then, this initially seems like a tremendous piece of business indeed. But what do the numbers say?
Liverpool’s goalkeeping troubles have been well documented, with the much-maligned Simon Mignolet catching all kinds of grief for error strewn performances characterized by a crippling weakness when it comes to the claiming of crosses. As I demonstrated at the OptaPro Analytics Forum in February, Mignolet was the second weakest goalkeeper in Europe’s Top 4 leagues at dealing with crosses in 2014/15, and, to the eye at least (I don’t have any 15/16 data with which to immediately back up this claim), has been similarly hapless this season.
To recap, if you weren’t at the talk or are yet to watch it on YouTube, I introduced a new metric wherein a goalkeeper who aggressively came to claim every single cross in their box, and successfully did so without dropping any and punching few, would be deemed optimal. By contrast, a cautious ‘keeper who dropped and punched the few crosses they came for would be less favourably reflected. Every ‘keeper could then be plotted against these two facets – defined as ‘aggression’ and ‘claim proficiency’.
So, whilst being a shot-stopper par excellence, how does Karius stack up when it comes to dealing with crosses?
Hmm. There is one caveat to this apparently dismal performance: Karius’ age. This data is from 2014/15, so, whilst keepers do tend to perform similarly well year on year by this metric, Karius was just 21 at the time. This is obviously extremely young, so it is plausible, and probably even likely, for Karius to have improved somewhat in the time since.
That as may be, I would be highly surprised were Karius to suddenly emerge as a supremely dominant cross-claimer in 2016/17. It’s possible, sure, but Liverpool’s problems at dealing with crosses almost certainly won’t go away with Karius rather than Mignolet in nets.