SOUTHAMPTON: Liverpool reserve goalkeeper Adrian enjoyed a memorable full debut in winning the UEFA Super Cup in Istanbul, but Southampton will hope his penalty shootout heroics against Chelsea simply masked a broader problem ahead of Saturday’s clash at St Mary’s.
A Liverpool defence that kept 20 clean sheets in the Premier League alone last season has looked strangely vulnerable in the first two competitive games of the new campaign.
Premier League newcomers Norwich enjoyed a number of chances in the opening game of the season at Anfield, but could only score once and were punished by Jurgen Klopp’s high-octane attack in a 4-1 defeat.
Chelsea also cut through the Liverpool defence too easily for Klopp’s liking in a 2-2 draw after extra-time in Turkey before Adrian stole the headlines with his save from Tammy Abraham after nine successful spot-kicks in the shootout.
The 32-year-old Spaniard was starting his first game for the European champions, just nine days after signing for Liverpool as cover for first-choice Alisson Becker.
The Brazilian picked up a calf injury in the first-half against Norwich, a problem which could sideline him for up to eight weeks and which will see Adrian, who spent the summer as a free agent following his departure from West Ham, thrown into the spotlight.
“Obviously it was a bit hard summer for me, a different one, because I didn’t know when I was going to a start with a team or another team, the Spanish league or not,” said Adrian, who had been training in his native Seville until two weeks ago.
“I didn’t know in that moment that Liverpool would come to me and call me saying ‘Adrian, come on, come to us because (Simon) Mignolet has an offer’ and they let him go.
“At the end of the day, it was a great decision to come here, to give that title, the first one (of the season) to Liverpool.”
Adrian’s stock had fallen in his final year with West Ham in which he was limited to just five appearances in cup competitions, the last in a shock FA Cup defeat to AFC Wimbledon in January.
Prior to saving Abraham’s penalty in the shootout, he conceded a spot-kick for bringing down the England international to hand Chelsea an equaliser in extra-time after Sadio Mane’s double put Liverpool in front.
And questions persist over how he will cope stepping into the shoes of Alisson, who made a monumental difference to Liverpool’s Champions and Premier League challenge after a £67 million (US$81 million) move from Roma in July 2018.
The loss of Alisson is also unsettling for a defence now having to adjust to a new goalkeeper behind them.
Even more responsibility will fall on the shoulders of Virgil van Dijk to organise the backline, but Klopp must decide whether the Dutchman is partnered by Joe Gomez or Joel Matip.
Gomez formed a strong partnership alongside Van Dijk at the start of last season before a lengthy injury lay-off allowed Matip to take over in the second half of the campaign.
“We have a lot of centre backs working at the moment, everyone is fit so the manager has to make decisions,” said Van Dijk, who is pleased to see Gomez back healthy.
“I’m just happy for him that he’s fit, he’s playing again, he’s playing at a high level and we just keep improving.”