Caoimhin Kelleher: Liverpool’s striker-turned-goalkeeper who Jurgen Klopp must start this weekend

Despite being part of a makeshift defence and facing such an offensive minded Ajax side, Kelleher never looked out of place

Melissa Reddy
Senior Football Correspondent
Wednesday 02 December 2020 08:45 GMT
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Jurgen Klopp goes to congratulate his young goalkeeper Caoimhin Kelleher
Jurgen Klopp goes to congratulate his young goalkeeper Caoimhin Kelleher (PA)

At full-time, Jurgen Klopp’s intended direction and target for his first triumphant hug was crystalline.

Liverpool’s manager darted straight for Caoimhin Kelleher, the 22-year-old goalkeeper entrusted with a Champions League debut in the absence of Alisson, who helped guide the injury-hit team to the knockout stages of the competition.

Apart from his decisive saves – a rising strike at full stretch from Noussair Mazraoui, but chiefly thwarting a point-black Klaas Jan Huntelaar at the death, the Irish stopper was an assured presence throughout the encounter.

Despite being part of a makeshift defence and facing such an offensively minded Ajax side, Kelleher never looked out of place, under pressure nor overawed by the occasion.

His distribution – no surprise given he was a minimum 20-goal-a-season striker that could also turn out in midfield before moving between the sticks of out necessity to help Ringmahon Rangers in the Cork Schoolboys League – was an asset against the visitors at Anfield.

• Read more: Liverpool secure top spot in Champions League group

“Top. Top, top, top,” Klopp summarised of Kelleher’s performance.

“It is a situation, which I have to say, it was easy to decide for Caoimhin because he just deserves it, but it was difficult to decide against Adrian because he did really well for us: a lot of clean sheets, what a season last year, Super Cup final and all these kind of things.

“He did a really good job, but we needed the package of Caoimhin – and he is a top talent anyway, but a really good shot stopper and a top footballer, so I like that.

“We needed that for the pressing of Ajax, we needed his chips from him into the half-spaces and these kind of things.

“That was really good, but of course in the end it is all about saving, keeping the ball out of the net, and he did that at least twice in an exceptional manner. I am pretty sure he will either sleep really well or not at all, but he will enjoy both.”

With Alisson expected to sit out against Wolves on Sunday with a hamstring strain, Kelleher has made a very powerful case for  keeping his place in the XI.

Adrian, like Klopp highlighted, did an admirable job deputising for the Brazil international last season and produced some fine moments – not least in the Super Cup victory against Chelsea.

But his starts this term have been coloured with apprehension and unease. While Kelleher lacks experience, his technical quality, calmness and command of his area are not the kind of labels you’d attach to the Spaniard.

As the youngster’s former coach at Ringmahon, Eddie Harrington, told the Cork Echo: “Nothing fazes him. He won’t let mistakes get to him.

“He used to say it to us that he could read a striker going through because he was so good at scoring goals himself that he nearly knew where they were going to put it as such.

“His feet were excellent.”

In the aftermath of Tuesday night’s display, Kelleher said his “phone’s been hopping”.

The only message he’ll be after now is from Klopp about another start on Sunday.

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