Liverpool’s title challenge will slip through Karius’ fingers unless Klopp can sort out his form quickly 4 years ago

Liverpool’s title challenge will slip through Karius’ fingers unless Klopp can sort out his form quickly

Slaven Bilic was speaking from a position of authority. "Sometimes at Anfield if it's 0-0 20 minutes and you get a throw-in you're happy. That's what it like."

Those comments seemed to belong to a bygone age when they were made towards the start of last season but today, as West Ham United failed to see out even five minutes before conceding, they made much more sense. The kind of long, unrewarding afternoon that Bilic had been referring to looked like it was about to transpire.

Unbeaten at home in the Premier League since January and averaging almost three goals a game at Anfield, Liverpool's opponents know that conceding early leaves them vulnerable to the kind of attacking onslaught that is becoming the hallmark of Jurgen Klopp's side.

After the punishment they had endured against Arsenal the previous weekend, the expectation might have been that West Ham would suffer again but within 35 minutes they were ahead. While doubts about Liverpool's title challenge were mounting, fears that West Ham had stopped playing for Bilic were doing the opposite.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 11: Slaven Bilic manager of West Ham United gives a thumbs up during the Premier League match between Liverpool and West Ham United at Anfield on December 11, 2016 in Liverpool, England. (Photo by Jan Kruger/Getty Images) (Photo by Jan Kruger/Getty Images)

 

If West Ham's response to conceding so early and so easily was impressive, particularly in the manner that they took the game to Liverpool, it was the only logical reaction and they quickly discovered that they were pushing at an open door. If Adam Lallana's opener had been the kind of goal that decent teams shouldn't allow, it was as nothing compared to the one that allowed West Ham to equalise.


Just seven minutes after the stage of the game when Bilic claimed Liverpool's opponents are sometimes happy to have won a throw-in, his team was gifted a goal. Once again, the eyes of everyone – and not just Gary Neville – were on Loris Karius, the man who has the status of Liverpool goalkeeper but who is yet to do anything to justify it.

The defensive wall that he had lined up to defend a free kick looked questionable, but not as much as his positioning which seemed to give Dimitri Payet too much of the goal to aim at. Payet didn't find the corner but he didn't need to, just getting his shot on target was enough as Karius produced the kind of dive that suggested, once again, that he is better at passing the ball than he is at stopping it.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 11: Dimitri Payet of West Ham United (27) scores their first goal from a free kick during the Premier League match between Liverpool and West Ham United at Anfield on December 11, 2016 in Liverpool, England. (Photo by Jan Kruger/Getty Images) Dimitri Payet equalises for West Ham from a free kick (Photo by Jan Kruger/Getty Images)

 

Having gone on the offensive following Neville's criticism of his performance in last weekend's 4-3 defeat to Bournemouth, Karius needed to back up his words up with actions but to do that he had to be able to master the basic demands of his job and they were proving beyond him.

Worst of all for the German, Liverpool's opponents know that he is their weak link. Steven Cook, the Bournemouth defender, provoked the ire of Klopp by publicly admitting as much but he was only saying what everyone else already knew. West Ham didn't need his quotes to realise that shooting on sight might not be the worst policy to adapt.

Liverpool's hope was that the return of Joel Matip would remove the defensive vulnerabilities that had been exposed during their second half collapse at Bournemouth and in general the centre back was imperious. But the one time he wasn't, Michail Antonio found himself clear. Matip needed his goalkeeper to bail him out but Karius failed to affect the play, finding himself instead in no man's land to such an extent that Antonio was able to prod a shot with little conviction and still score.


Klopp may have a duty to protect his players, particularly when under attack from outside, but as things stand his only hope with Karius is that this is a settling in period because if it is anything more significant than that it is hard to see who he can establish himself as Liverpool's number one.

Those who cite David De Gea's testing opening season as evidence that foreign goalkeepers can and do improve certainly have a point but only in the same way as those who contend that managers must be given time because that was what Sir Alex Ferguson needed. Only if you are the right man do such arguments hold water.

NORWICH, ENGLAND - MAY 07: David De Gea of Manchester United celebrates his team's first goal during the Barclays Premier League match between Norwich City and Manchester United at Carrow Road on May 7, 2016 in Norwich, England. (Photo by Stephen Pond/Getty Images) David De Gea struggled when he first came to England - but can Karius turn it round like he did? (Photo by Stephen Pond/Getty Images)

 

In fairness to Karius, the limelight at Anfield is less forgiving than it is at other places, which is why Darren Randolph will come under less scrutiny for making a worse mistake, one that allowed Divock Origi to put Liverpool back on level terms. The idea of absorbing pressure seems to be as unfashionable as willingly paying tax in the Premier League these days and all it took for West Ham to yield was a cross into the penalty area that should have caused them no problems. Randolph's intervention, though, turned a blank into a live bullet.

Liverpool do not have a monopoly on conceding cheaply with arguably only Chelsea, Tottenham Hotspur and, increasingly, Manchester United falling into the category of teams who are difficult to break down. As Klopp knows, Liverpool's best chance of winning games isn't to play conservatively and look to keep things tight, it is to take the game to the opposition even if that runs the risk of their weaknesses being preyed upon.

But the problem with that approach is it is difficult to sustain because there will be days, like this one, when your attack is unable to score more than two goals in a game and while that remains the case, Chelsea's deservedness to be regarded as title favourites will be difficult to argue against.

Having won at Stamford Bridge in September, Liverpool now trail Chelsea by six points having dropped five in their last two matches. Like Bournemouth, West Ham had got a great deal more than a throw in against them and unless Klopp manages to turn around Karius's form, others will do the same.  

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