‘It’s like a movie script’: Loris Karius handed redemption chance amid Newcastle’s heartbreak
Jurgen Klopp could have been forgiven for experiencing traumatic flashbacks. The mention of Loris Karius and a cup final may have been enough to stir unwanted memories. Liverpool’s Champions League finals can be defined by their goalkeepers, by the heroics of Bruce Grobbelaar and Jerzy Dudek in shootouts. Then came 2018, the moment when Karius threw the ball against Karim Benzema’s outstretched foot and watched it roll into the Liverpool net, to the long-range shot from Gareth Bale that squirmed through his hands.
A few days later, doctors concluded Karius was concussed. An explanation may not have altered anything. It is one of the most infamous goalkeeping displays in footballing history. It was Karius’ 49th and last game for Liverpool. And now his first, and perhaps last, for Newcastle could be in a cup final: not of the same magnitude in one respect but, as United have not won a major trophy for 54 years, one of immense significance nonetheless.
Occasionally football provides a chance for redemption though the notion the luck evens itself out would be disputed by Nick Pope: heartbreak for goalkeepers can come before finals and the suspended England international, a man who had a part-time job at Next after being released by Ipswich and had gravitated to become one of the players of the season, could feel an injustice that the one game he misses might be Newcastle’s biggest for 54 years. Perhaps fate determines that his deputy now is Karius. “It’s like the script from a movie, so incredible,” said Pope’s usual understudy Martin Dubravka. “Now we want a happy ending.”
But Klopp, with his attention focused on his team, had just assumed that Dubravka would take Pope’s spot at Wembley. Except that the cup-tied Slovakian has played for both Manchester and Newcastle United this season; perhaps he will get both winner’s and loser’s medals on Sunday, regardless of who prevails, but he will not play. “It’s a very strange situation for me,” he said. “But it’s part of the story.” The missing character is Karl Darlow, Newcastle’s third choice, who is out on loan at Hull.
And so Newcastle’s hopes may rest with Karius, a short-term signing in September, and almost two years after his last appearance for anyone; Union Berlin. “You can absolutely rely on him,” said Klopp. “He’s a great goalie.” Actions may speak louder than words, however, and he released Karius last summer; his compatriot was then Liverpool’s fifth choice and Marcelo Pitaluga, then fourth in line, is now on loan at Macclesfield in the eighth tier.
Eddie Howe put on a brave face, but he had to. He spoke of Karius’ experience of big games, though his experience of the biggest of all is traumatic. He described the German as much the best goalkeeper available on a free transfer in January, which was damning him with faint praise. He talked of the behind-closed-doors friendlies and training games Karius has played.
All of which is very different from facing Marcus Rashford in front of 90,000 people at Wembley. Dubravka tried to sound similarly supportive of Karius. “”He’s not played much football but he’s a very experienced player who looks good in training,” he said. “I’m sure he’ll handle the game well.”
But if an impromptu bit of handling from Pope, outside his box, created a problem, they otherwise have proof he can cope. He recently went 930 minutes without conceding. He has the most clean sheets in the Premier League. He has been the division’s outstanding goalkeeper this season.
At Anfield, they often tend to argue the world’s best is Karius’ successor. A reason why the German even played the 2018 Champions League final was that they were waiting for Alisson Becker to become available. If defeat to Real was a cost, they can say the wait was worthwhile: indeed the Brazilian was arguably man of the match in the 2019 final.
The awkward job-share between Simon Mignolet and Karius was followed by the simplicity of selecting the obvious candidate. For all Newcastle’s talk of Karius’ experience, he was inexperienced, a 24-year-old thrust into the biggest game of his life when there was already evidence his clear ability was compromised by an erraticism that seemed to stem from a surfeit of confidence.
Klopp left the St James’ Park pitch with trademark grin and an arm around Alisson, who had allied invaluable and excellent saves with brilliant distribution; his swift pass led to Pope’s dismissal and Newcastle, who only took two points from three games when Bruno Guimaraes was banned, could now be counting the cost of another suspension.
Klopp often had to defend Karius. He tends to simply praise Alisson. “He’s the goalie he is and we love having him,” he said; that love may be greater as Liverpool can remember having a more unreliable goalkeeper. As he phrased it more than once last season, “Ali saved our ass”. It was not his only unusual tribute. Rewind to the 2019 Club World Cup and Klopp, borrowing the tune from Queen’s Radio Gaga, started singing “All you need is Alisson Becker”.
And now all Newcastle have is Loris Karius.