When Premier League teams assemble their squads for the season, often they include three goalkeepers. Usually, there is the clear first choice, followed by an understudy and finally a squad backup, who is either an experienced professional coming to the end of his career or, by complete contrast, a youth product.
The first choice will be selected for the important games, which for bigger teams will consist of their league and Champions League fixtures, and the second choice will be drafted in for the cup competitions, with the third choice simply providing cover for the above duo.
Recently however, a slight shift has occurred in this long-standing policy, especially for the elite.
Inspired by European powerhouses such as Barcelona, who play different goalkeepers in the league and Champions League, the ‘Big Six’ in England are either following Barcelona’s lead or increasing the quality of their second-choice goalkeeper to create greater competition.
Arsene Wenger often rotates Petr Cech and David Ospina, with the latter primarily chosen for the Champions League and the former used in the Premier League. Some Arsenal fans would even prefer to see Ospina selected more regularly, though Cech does remain first choice.
Chelsea recently had Asmir Begovic, probably a top ten Premier League goalkeeper, competing with Thibaut Courtois, probably a top five goalkeeper across all of world football. Begovic only departed for Bournemouth this summer, and his replacement Willy Caballero remains a capable challenger, having previously played for Manchester City and Malaga.
Manchester United use Argentina’s Sergio Romero far more often than previous understudies to David De Gea, such as Anders Lindegaard, while Tottenham have possessed great depth in goal in recent years, with Hugo Lloris, Michel Vorm and previously Brad Friedel.
Finally, since arriving at Manchester City, Pep Guardiola has not felt the need to retain long-time star Joe Hart because the Spaniard has former Barcelona goalkeeper Claudio Bravo, Ederson (the most expensive goalkeeper of all time in pound sterling) and previously Caballero.
Meanwhile, Liverpool’s goalkeeping line-up is not as stellar, but contains even more depth. Simon Mignolet, Loris Karius and Danny Ward are not world-class goalkeepers, but equally all are good enough to play in the Premier League. None deserve to be left stranded as a third-choice option.
When Jurgen Klopp spoke of retaining all three, it seemed that this would only last for pre-season, with Klopp examining the trio to see which two he could count on for the season ahead, and who needed more game-time away from Anfield.
Ward has thrown himself into the conversation at Liverpool because of his impressive loan spell at Huddersfield Town, where the 24-year-old helped Huddersfield secure promotion from the Championship to the Premier League, courtesy of winning a penalty shootout in the play-off final against Reading.
Karius has plenty to prove following his underwhelming first season, but Klopp remains convinced about the 24-year-old German’s ability.
Mignolet ended last season as the clear first-choice, and has started this season in the same position. The 29-year-old Belgian has performed reasonably well, but not without errors, meaning he still has not solidified that first-choice status.
Reports have emerged this week that Klopp is planning to give all three of his goalkeepers game-time this season, but in different competitions – Mignolet for the Premier League, Karius for the Champions League and Ward for the cups.
Keeping players happy through rotation is important, but three different goalkeepers communicating with Liverpool’s defence is tough when trying to build up understanding between the back five.
Also, if this plan from Klopp is true, it shows that the Liverpool manager still has little idea over his best goalkeeper, given the importance of the Champions League and how hard the Reds worked to return to the competition.
Mignolet, Karius and Ward may receive first-team minutes, but all three are unlikely to be happy with the situation, and perhaps in this case Liverpool have too much competition, even if the goalkeeping depth is rising in the Premier League.
Every player needs a rival in their position to keep them motivated to improve, but three quality players in one position could cause the reverse effect. Mignolet remains the safest bet to hold onto his fragile status as Liverpool’s number one goalkeeper, but more from the inability of Ward and especially Karius to raise their levels enough to overhaul Mignolet, rather than the latter improving himself.
Once the goalkeeping order becomes clear, it will be hugely surprising if the unhappy third-choice does not depart Liverpool on loan.
Most importantly however, title-winning teams have great goalkeepers. If none of Mignolet, Karius and Ward can elevate themselves to the level required of a title-winning goalkeeper, then a fourth option will be on their way to Anfield next summer.