After a mediocre 2015/16 campaign, Jurgen Klopp is set for a busy summer in the transfer market, adding to his squad for his first full season in charge of Liverpool, with Mainz goalkeeper Loris Karius reported to be among the German's priority targets ahead of 2016/17.
According to the Liverpool Echo's James Pearce, the Reds are "closing in on a £4.7million deal" for the 22-year-old, and though Pearce stresses that "no deal has yet been agreed," he claims that, with Klopp a "big admirer" of Karius, they are "confident of securing [his] services."
"Liverpool have had Karius watched extensively this season and Klopp believes the 6'3" shot-stopper is the ideal recruit to provide greater competition for Anfield No. 1 Simon Mignolet," Pearce continues, before suggesting that current backup options Adam Bogdan and Danny Ward would leave the club.
Bogdan is poised to depart on a permanent deal just one year after making the move from Bolton Wanderers, while Ward—an excellent young talent who impressed in his two Premier League appearances in 2015/16—would leave on loan, with Championship side Huddersfield Town his most likely destination.
Allowing two goalkeepers to leave in order to facilitate Karius' arrival is a bold move by Klopp and one that underlines the 48-year-old's faith in his young compatriot.
But who is Karius and what could he bring to Liverpool were he to make the £4.7 million move from Klopp's former side?
If Karius does join Liverpool this summer, he would be no stranger to English shores, having spent two years in Manchester City's academy as a teenager.
Arriving from Stuttgart as a precocious 16-year-old in a deal worth an "exorbitant amount of money," as the German club's youth coordinator Thomas Allbeck told Stuttgarter Nachrichten (h/t Sky Sports) in 2009, Karius became the latest face in a fervent youth drive from a newly rich City.
As Karius' agent Klaus Gerster explained, the young goalkeeper was a much sought-after talent at the time of his move:
Loris signed a three-year contract in Manchester last week.
We had many offers from England and Germany—70 percent of Premier League sides wanted Loris.
Loris has great talent—if he didn't, there wouldn't have been such massive interest in him—but football is all about performances.
It may well have been that Liverpool were among that 70 percent of clubs chasing Karius' signature, though making the switch to the English top flight so early was arguably not the best decision in terms of his development as a player.
Allbeck made a salient prediction on Karius' move to Manchester, saying "all the sporting and educational aspects will not matter when a young player has got it made financially in just a few years time."
Karius could have followed in the footsteps of a host of young players who have prioritised financial gain over personal development in the Premier League era, most notably with big clubs such as City, but the goalkeeper recognised the potential to stagnate quickly and joined Mainz in 2011.
After a season spent on loan in Mainz's reserve side, Karius made the permanent move to the Coface Arena in 2012, making his Bundesliga debut as a second-half substitute in a 2-1 win over Hannover 96 in December of the same year.
It wasn't until the following campaign that Karius was given a real opportunity to impress in the Mainz first team, however, with then-manager Thomas Tuchel calling his young star to take the reins from veterans Christian Wetklo and Heinz Muller.
Karius responded emphatically, keeping nine clean sheets in 23 league games as Mainz sealed a seventh-placed finish, and he has gone on to make 96 senior appearances for the club, firmly established as first choice.
Notching close to a century of top-flight appearances at the young age of 22 is a testament to Karius' quality, the goalkeeper's potential and the faith of his managers in a player who could go on to become Germany's next No. 1.
Manuel Neuer turned 30 in March, and while it could be up to a decade before he relinquishes his position, he will be challenged by the likes of Karius, Timo Horn, Marc-Andre ter Stegen and Bernd Leno, the Bayer Leverkusen goalkeeper called up to Joachim Low's squad for this summer's UEFA European Championships.
Fighting off Horn, Leno and Co. would be a tough challenge for Karius himself, but the Swabian native is built for life at the top.
A looming physical presence at 6'3", Karius is able to utilise his strong stature to dominate the penalty area, rising high to claim crosses, remaining resolute in punching loose balls away and bellowing orders to his defensive colleagues.
It is arguably Karius' vocal authority that has made him a mainstay under Martin Schmidt, with the 49-year-old able to rely on his young custodian to organise a back line that includes former Germany under-21 international Stefan Bell.
Mainz conceded just 42 goals in 34 Bundesliga games in 2015/16, and like Schalke and Hertha Berlin directly above and below them, this proved crucial as they battled for a fifth-placed finish—with all three struggling to find the back of the net consistently—as Schmidt's side registered a goal difference of four, eventually finishing sixth.
But while Schmidt can be encouraged by the exploits of his well-drilled defensive unit, Karius' athleticism and superb reflexes contributed significantly to this robust setup.
Despite his size, Karius is a fleet-footed goalkeeper, quick off his line and nimble on it, and he averaged 2.1 saves per goal in the Bundesliga in 2015/16, including an exceptional, sprinting stop to deny Borussia Monchengladbach forward Raffael in January's 1-0 win at the Coface Arena.
"I'll have to ask him how he saved that one," Mainz winger Christian Clemens told the Bundesliga's official YouTube channel after the game. "He wasn't even in goal and then all of a sudden he was there. I mean, we all know he is a fantastic goalkeeper. Luckily for us, he played out of his skin today."
This audacious approach does land Karius in trouble in the 18-yard box at times, with the youngster guilty of making some rash decisions, but he is more often than not on hand to atone for his mistakes.
In 2015/16, he made three defensive errors in the lead, but none led to a goal, and this may be a key factor in Klopp's decision to push for his signing this summer, as the Liverpool manager has endured a worrying campaign for current first choice, Mignolet.
Like Karius, Mignolet is an accomplished shot-stopper, with great reflexes and an intelligent approach between the sticks, but the Belgian has continually underlined his standing as a limited goalkeeper, lacking confidence in possession and good judgment off the ball.
Mignolet made six defensive errors in the Premier League in 2015/16, four of which led directly to a goal, providing a damning indictment of his quality as a top-level goalkeeper.
Furthermore, compared to Karius, Mignolet averaged fewer saves per goal, with 1.27, and registered a significantly lower claim success, with 82 percent to Karius' 98 percent; Mignolet kept two more clean sheets in the league, with 11 in 34 games compared to Karius' nine in the same number of outings, but it could be argued this is due to a higher calibre of protection in his defensive line.
Though Mignolet signed a new long-term contract with the Reds in February, the former Sunderland goalkeeper has continued to struggle for consistency between the sticks, and a move to sign competition for his role, despite Ward's strong performances when called upon, suggests Klopp is ready for change.
At just 22, Karius is poised to develop into one of Europe's finest goalkeepers, and given Klopp's ties with Mainz following 18 years with the club—first as a player, then as a manager—he will come with a glowing reference.
Familiar with life in England—and a similar style of play to Klopp's at Liverpool, with Mainz picking up where he left off in 2008—Karius should slot in comfortably on Merseyside if he were to join the Reds this summer.
He may not take up the No. 1 shirt immediately, but six months serving as Mignolet's understudy should prepare him to step into the fold as Klopp's next first-choice goalkeeper, and at £4.7 million, he would be an absolute steal.