Liverpool compounded their recent dip in results with a frustrating draw at home to relegation-threatened West Ham United. Klopp’s team played some nice football and were much the better side, but were unable to create enough clear-cut chances. Coutinho’s creativity and Sturridge’s lethal touch were sorely missed – with either of them fit it seems likely that Liverpool would have won this game. However, the biggest issue was at the other end of the pitch: Karius put in another wholly unconvincing performance, and was at fault to some level for both goals.
Things got off to a very good start. Mane made the most of some hesitant defending to drive Liverpool forward; he reached the byline and put in a dangerous ball. Lallana controlled, turned, and fired the ball past Randolph. At this point it looked as though it would be a comfortable victory to get us back on track after the disaster at Bournemouth. Liverpool being Liverpool, however, this was not the case: there was a sense of inevitability as Payet’s free-kick flew in twenty minutes later. In actual fact, it was not inevitable at all – it was entirely preventable, and was allowed to happen through a combination of a poor defensive wall and awful positioning from Karius. Most of the wall jumped but Lallana stayed grounded: the ball went sailing over his head and in, past the outstretched hand of Karius. This hand would surely have been able to palm the ball away had the German not stood so far over to the right of the goal (Karius’s left): Payet hit it well but it was fairly central, and it should certainly have been kept out. This is the latest in a string of unconvincing moments for Karius, who has not really shown any shot-stopping prowess at all since arriving at Liverpool. He is supposedly a sweeper, who brings attributes to a team other than shot-stopping – maybe this is true, but again he hasn’t showed it much since joining the club. This is exemplified by West Ham’s second goal: the ball hit Henderson and bounced over Matip to Antonio in a very unfortunate fashion, but Karius was very slow off his line. The angle was not closed quickly enough, and Antonio just had the space to roll the ball over the line. At the moment, it is very hard to see what he brings to the team that Mignolet does not; for all his faults the Belgian is a truly world-class shot-stopper, and that’s an improvement on where Karius is right now. He may well develop, but if the club want to compete in the here and now then it cannot wait for Karius to catch up.
Things were only marginally better going forward. Multiple players went close, with Wijnaldum firing narrowly wide and Clyne skying a shot at the end of a lovely team move, but the equaliser proved elusive until the start of the second half. Another Mane cross was flapped at by Randolph, and Origi was on hand to capitalise. It looked as though it would only be a matter of time before Liverpool pulled themselves back in front, but it was not to be. Randolph atoned for his mistake with a spectacular save to deny Henderson a beautiful goal, and although the hosts constantly threatened they could not find a winner. In truth, it was not a bad performance – there is no real crisis, and the result feels much worse than it actually is due to the fact that it comes straight after the Bournemouth loss. However, another failure to win in the next game really will mean trouble: we are already six points adrift of the league leaders, and no wins in three would essentially strip us of any title credentials we may possess.
The next match is against Middlesbrough, and is surely winnable even without Coutinho and Sturridge. Klopp has unsurprisingly come out in support of Karius, and will almost certainly not drop him – if this is the case, it Is time for the young keeper to step up and prove himself. He cannot complain about critics when his performances have warranted such criticism; hopefully, for the good of the team, he silences the doubters by showing exactly what Klopp has seen in him. The forwards, too, have a point to prove: although the goals have continued in Coutinho’s absence the results have not, and if this squad have any ambitions of winning the title then they need to show that they can cope when key men are out. In other words, this result has taken the team to a point of make or break: the players must stand up and be counted now, or else resign themselves to falling short yet again.