If the sun shone brightly in Bury, then so did the spotlight.
Loris Karius will have to get used to life under the microscope, though his social media presence suggests he’s not particularly uncomfortable in the public eye. His latest examination came in the modest surroundings of the awkwardly named Energy Check Stadium at Gigg Lane on Saturday.
Liverpool’s pre-season has been fairly low-key, this 0-0 draw coming after victories at Chester and Tranmere in the last week. Smooth enough progress for Jurgen Klopp’s side, who will now step up their preparations against higher-level opponents
It’s not been quite so serene for Karius, mind. He needed a quiet summer, the German, a few weeks of peace after the chaos of Kiev.
No such luck.
“I need to cool down the whole situation,” Klopp had said at Chester last weekend, but Karius’ howler at Tranmere on Tuesday night ensured there was little chance of that. The goalkeeper is in the firing line; so, by extension, is his manager.
As it stands, the Reds are unlikely to recruit a new shot-stopper before the transfer window closes next month. They would like Alisson Becker of Roma, but that deal hit the buffers some time ago. A host of alternatives have been linked, few of which are of genuine interest to the club.
Instead, then, we are left with a situation in which Danny Ward, the third-choice goalkeeper last season, is given a chance to stake his claim for the No.1 spot. Talk about unexpected developments.
Ward did not feature at all against Bury, having been left behind to train at Melwood. He will, however, start against Blackburn Rovers on Thursday, and will travel with the squad on their three-game tour of the USA. The word from inside the club is that this is the Welshman’s big opportunity.
Fair play to him, if so. Ward has waited a long time for a first-team shot at Anfield. He joined Liverpool as a teenager in 2012, but has made just three competitive appearances for them since. His more productive spells have come on loan, an impressive half-season in Scotland with Aberdeen and a promotion-winning campaign at Huddersfield under David Wagner, one of Klopp’s closest friends.
Wagner would have taken Ward on loan again last season, but Liverpool said no. Ward ended up making one appearance in a Carabao Cup defeat to Leicester, with Karius and Simon Mignolet fighting for the big gigs. A wasted season, you’d have to say.
It would have been no surprise had Ward left Liverpool this summer. Burnley and Bournemouth are among those who have expressed an interest in the 25-year-old, but instead it looks like Liverpool will be making their move. The Belgian and the German have not convinced Klopp, can the Welshman?
The suggestion from Melwood is that Ward is training well, looking stronger and, crucially, showing the mentality needed to be a top-flight No.1. If Liverpool staff had doubts over him in the past, it was that he was perhaps content with the easy life at times, happy to be in the background instead of pushing himself towards centre-stage. He’s a popular character, but perhaps needed a bit more steel.
He’ll certainly need a thick skin if he’s to play for Liverpool. Both Mignolet and Karius will testify to the pressures and the scrutiny which comes with being this club’s custodian. Both have had good moments and excellent games, but it is the bad times, the errors and the misjudgements that define them. The life of a goalkeeper is not for everyone; it’s often lonely and there’s always criticism.
At Bury, Karius’ every touch was greeted with ironic cheers from both sets of supporters. There were oohs and ahhs as the ball made its way back to him, sarcastic applause when he controlled a simple pass with his chest, and one potential catastrophe when Alberto Moreno left a backpass short just before half-time. On this occasion, the mistake went unpunished.
The German played an hour before being replaced by Kamil Grabara, a young Pole with a very good reputation inside the club. It was, thankfully, a low-key afternoon for Karius, but it’ll take more than that to repair his confidence and reputation.
Starting the season with him in goal would be a huge gamble on Klopp’s part, one that even the manager accepts could be too much. Unlike many supporters, he is not yet ready to write off his countryman entirely, but having made his feelings on Mignolet abundantly clear last season, he finds himself in a far from ideal situation; having to take a punt, at a time when Liverpool should be ironing out their flaws.
Ward, at least, can come into the side free of baggage. He has not yet let Liverpool down and deserves the chance to at least compete for a spot. Whether he will be good enough for where the Reds are trying to get to, however, is a more than fair question. It would be a surprise if he put an end to the debate.
In the meantime, we can be sure of one thing; Liverpool are sailing perilously close to the wind when it comes to their goalkeeping situation. It cost them last season, if it were to do so again this time around then serious questions would be asked.
Best of luck Danny. History suggests you may need it.