Much of the post-match analysis following Liverpool’s 1-0 away win at Ajax centred around the marvellous performance of Fabinho in his unfavoured role as a centre-half.
The Brazilian midfielder was filling in for the stricken Virgil van Dijk, who is set to miss the majority of the season through injury, and helped the Reds to only their third clean sheet of the season in all competitions with an assured display.
Fabinho’s most notable contribution, a spectacular overhead clearance on the line to deny a certain Ajax goal, has dominated the aftermath of the result but it masks over Jurgen Klopp’s most obvious short-term problem – Adrian.
Liverpool’s second-choice goalkeeper was bailed out by Fabinho with that goal-line clearance as the Spaniard had been easily lobbed by Dusan Tadic from close range, one of several mishaps the goalkeeper got away with in Amsterdam.
This was some goal-line clearance from Fabinho! ⛔️— Football on BT Sport (@btsportfootball) October 21, 2020
A vital one too, with Liverpool beating Ajax 1-0 in Amsterdam... pic.twitter.com/EbJ3QQYer2
Adrian set the tone for his performance early on, rushing off his line to effectively tackle Joe Gomez, his own player, who was visibly frustrated with his team-mate for not reading the situation better.
Soon after, he allowed an opponent to close down a clearance and was fortunate the ball did not ricochet into the net. His erratic performance continued into the second-half as he flapped at a cross and pushed a relatively straight-forward save wide for a corner.
Adrian was fortunate Ajax failed to capitalise on any one of these gifts, and although the Spaniard did make some reasonable saves throughout the 90 minutes, it’s clear to anyone with a decent nous for the game that he is simply not good enough to play for Liverpool.
Given Alisson Becker’s track record for getting injured, it was surprising to see Klopp pass up the opportunity to sign a stronger back-up goalkeeper in the summer transfer window, with Adrian’s incapability all too evident last season as well.
Joe Hart was available on a free transfer but instead he’s warming the bench at Tottenham when he could be breathing fresh life into his career in goal for Liverpool. But then Klopp has always been curiously stubborn when it comes to goalkeepers.
He insisted on sticking with Loris Karius longer than anyone with an affinity to the club could bear and only accepted defeat when his compatriot cost Liverpool the 2018 Champions League final with two howlers on the biggest stage of all.
Klopp can’t afford to push the boundaries quite so far with Adrian as the Spaniard looks a constant accident waiting to happen, and in a season which looks to be wide open on all fronts every single error leading to a goal will make a difference come the end of the season.
It’s up to Klopp to minimise those risks as early as possible, and to do that he needs to accept that Adrian causes unnecessary havoc around Liverpool’s defence. His team-mates – evidenced by Gomez’s exasperation in Amsterdam – clearly have little faith in their back-up goalkeeper, which is always a concern.
Since he didn’t add strength in depth in the goalkeeping department this summer, Klopp’s only alternative at this moment in time is to give 21-year-old third choice keeper Caoimhín Kelleher a chance to prove himself in the first team.
Kelleher has made four cup appearances for Liverpool to date, but has conceded five in two of those performances – the remarkable 5-5 League Cup draw with Arsenal and the 5-0 drubbing by Aston Villa in the quarter-finals of the same tournament last December.
However, the Villa thumping was a match which was effectively forfeited by Klopp as the Reds sent out a youth team while the seniors competed in the Club World Cup, so Kelleher was thrown under the bus somewhat as the goalkeeper of a wildly inexperienced team.
Granted, he was a little unconvincing during the 90 minutes of the 5-5 draw with Arsenal, but on the plus side he was the hero of the subsequent shoot-out win, brilliantly saving a penalty from Dani Ceballos in what was the only miss.
Ex-players and pundits will often point to the same argument when it comes to a manager repeatedly picking one player over another – the boss and his assistants work day-in-day-out with both players and continue to stick with the same one, so there must be good reason for the decision.
It is hard to argue with that, but it is also hard to argue with the fact that Adrian is an underperforming liability for Liverpool and could easily cost them points when deputising for Alisson.
Kelleher may only be 21, but giving an inexperienced goalkeeper a chance in the Premier League is not always such a bad idea – look at Leeds United’s 20-year-old keeper Illan Meslier, who forced his way into Marcelo Bielsa’s side after impressing during Kiko Casilla’s suspension last season.
The young Frenchman is now Leeds’ number one, and while Kelleher is extremely unlikely to keep Alisson out of the Liverpool team when the Brazilian is available, it does go to show that young goalkeepers can excel at Premier League level when given the opportunity.
Klopp showed his ruthless edge in hauling off his misfiring star trio Mo Salah, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino in one triple-substitution against Ajax on Wednesday. He now needs to take the same ruthless measure with his underperforming goalkeeper Adrian.