It’s not often that a player completely overshadows a major cup final in the build-up. But that was the case in the days leading up to the 2022-23 EFL Cup final between Newcastle United and Manchester United, when it was clear that goalkeeper Loris Karius would be making his return to football in the match.

The 29-year-old German came into the Newcastle side due to a string of fortunate coincidental events. Starting goalkeeper Nick Pope was serving a suspension for a red card; backup goalkeeper Martin Dúbravka was unable to play due to having featured for Manchester United in the competition earlier this season; and third-choice Karl Darlow was on loan at Hull City.

Prior to last weekend’s cup final, Karius hadn’t made a competitive appearance since he suited up for Union Berlin in 2021; and he hadn’t made a competitive appearance for an English club since the 2018 Champions League final, in which he made two high-profile mistakes to cost Liverpool the championship.

Karius’ lack of action and reputation made him the centre of mostly negative attention going into the final. Critics were quick to speculate whether a repeat of the 2018 Champions League final could happen on Sunday — and whether Karius was up for the challenge after his disastrous spells in 2018 and beyond.

In the end, Karius’ Newcastle was beaten 2-0 by the Red Devils thanks to two first half goals — but it was not the fault of the German goalkeeper. On the contrary, Karius was one of Newcastle’s top performers and a significant reason why the scoreline was close.

According to, Karius was the highest-rated Newcastle player in the match with a 6.9 rating; just 0.1 below opposite goalkeeper David de Gea. He made no obvious errors and eight total saves, the most stops in an EFL Cup final since WhoScored started tracking that stat in 2014.

Taking a deeper statistical look, analyst John Harrison’s Goalkeeper-xG model says the average PL goalkeeper would’ve made 7.78 saves had they been in Karius’ position, given the quality of the 10 shots Karius faced. 

What this means is Karius’ shot-stopping performance was actually up to par with what you’d expect from the average first division goalkeeper. Not bad for a goalkeeper who hadn’t played in two years!

It was a near-perfect return for Karius, minus the actual score. And while Karius isn’t likely to see any more competitive action this season, his shot-stopping performance is one he can use to rebuild both his self-confidence and maybe his career.

A high-flying save

As mentioned earlier in the piece, Loris Karius stopped eight of the 10 shots on target Manchester United took in Sunday’s final. It’s the most saves made in an EFL Cup final since at least 2014; the next highest is six saves by Liverpool’s Simon Mignolet in 2016.

They weren’t all easy saves either. A number of the shots Karius faced in the EFL Cup final could’ve easily resulted in a goal had Karius not been sharp.

One of those difficult saves was made in first half stoppage time. Down 2-0 at that point, Newcastle United were trying to salvage something before the break, but were stripped of the ball in Manchester United’s half. 

Within a couple of passes, Manchester United’s Wout Weghorst was on the break in Newcastle’s half. After taking a couple of touches to settle the ball down and bring it onto his left, the Dutchman struck a powerful shot from 21 yards out from Karius’ left side to the opposite end of the end.

Karius, who was positioned relatively deep in his goal, dove to his right side and stuck out his top, left hand to spectacularly parry the ball away from his goal.

It was a stupendous save by the German, and there are a few things he did to perfectly set himself up for this shot.

Firstly, let’s take a look at the save attempt itself. As the shot comes toward him, Karius launches off with his right foot and attacks the ball at an upwards angle. He initially leads with both of his hands, but then extends his left hand (what is considered to be his top hand in this scenario) to parry the ball away from his goal.

These three actions put Karius in the best position possible to get up to this high shot and make the save. But before I explain how, let’s consider Karius’ height. 

The German goalkeeper is 6 ft 2 inches/1.88m tall. He’s not the shortest goalkeeper on a Premier League team — Nottingham Forest’s Keylor Navas and Everton’s Jordan Pickford, for example,  are 1.83m and 1.85m tall. But, Karius is well short of the 1.98m average among goalkeepers who’ve made an appearance in the Premier League this season. 

Given Karius’ height, he might be more prone to conceding high goals than the average Premier League-based goalkeeper. So to combat that deficiency and make sure he reaches those top-third shots, he has to take the right steps in his save attempt.

That is exactly what he did on Weghorst’s shot and why I highlighted those three specific actions.

In terms of the lift-off, Karius makes the appropriate decision to push off with his leading right leg, as that gives him the explosive power necessary to take off and attack the shot with force. Had he tried to push off with his trailing left leg, Karius wouldn’t have had the right launch needed to even reach this attempt, let alone push it away with power.

Next, the angle of Karius’ dive was necessary in order to reach this shot. Due to the placement of Weghorst’s shot, Karius had to dive to his right side, but he also had to make sure he was diving at an angle that allowed him to fly and attack the ball at an upwards angle. Had Karius attempted a more sideways, acute-angled dive rather than the more upright dive, he might’ve under-dove the shot and failed to reach the ball.

Finally, Karius’ decision to attack the ball with his top, left hand was the icing on the cake. In this situation, Karius’ top hand gave him the necessary extra inches he needed to effectively turn aside this high shot. It also allowed him to deflect this shot with power by utilizing the momentum and force his body had generated through his launch and dive. Had he gone with his bottom, right hand, he might not have been able to reach this shot; and even if he did, he probably wouldn’t have been able to parry it away with force.

According to John Harrison’s model, Weghorst’s long-range attempt would’ve beaten the average Premier League goalkeeper 29% of the time. But thanks in part to the way Karius attacked the shot, Karius was able to keep this one out.

Prime positioning

Sticking with the save on Wout Weghorst, the second thing I want to highlight is Loris Karius’ positioning. When Weghorst struck this shot, Karius was positioned relatively deep in his goal, about three to four yards away from his line.

In my opinion, this was the optimal position for Karius to be in for this shot. The deep position gave the goalkeeper the near-maximum amount of time possible to process Weghorst’s shot and react appropriately.

Long shots are generally considered to be the easiest type of shots for a goalkeeper to face. But there are a few things that can make some long shots as dangerous as close-range shots, one of which is the obstruction of the goalkeeper’s vision. 

When a player takes a long shot, there’s usually a body or two in front of the shooter, either trying to block the shot, marking other opponents, or trying to get into space for a potential rebound. And while these bodies tend to be usually defenders trying to help the goalkeeper, they can sometimes backfire by getting in the goalkeeper’s line of sight. 

As a result, despite the ball getting struck more than 18 yards away from the goal, there may be times a goalkeeper doesn’t see the ball until much later — and thus, doesn’t start reacting until later than they would’ve liked. 

This is why a deep position like the one Karius had here is beneficial. This position gives the goalkeeper a bit more time to process the ball’s flight threw or over the body/bodies in front of them, and react in an appropriate, timely manner.

This is in contrast with a high position, say eight or more yards out, where the goalkeeper significantly cuts the time they have to react to a shot down; and if they see a shot late due to it going through a body or two, that’s even less time for them to react in. 

In this case, there was a Newcastle player between Karius and Weghorst when the latter took his shot; and while Karius’ vision probably wasn’t greatly obstructed by his teammate’s presence, the deep position still gave him the extra time to process the shot in case saw it late.

Related to this, another benefit a deep position can give to a goalkeeper is the ability to react to a shot’s changing movement or placement sooner.

Unlike close-range shots where the ball doesn’t have much time or space to deviate from its flight path, well-struck long shots can make the ball spin, dip and move in ways that can confuse and throw off goalkeepers (as the likes of Juninho Pernambucano and Hakan Çalhanoğlu have shown.)

Furthermore, long shots are usually more prone to huge deflections than close-range shots, as there’s a greater likelihood that the attempt will hit a player and completely change its path to goal.

Given this, a goalkeeper needs to give themselves as much time as possible to be able to not only process these spins, dips and potential deflections, but also react to them.

Timing is everything, especially in these scenarios. So if a goalkeeper has a high position when these kinds of things happen, then they’re going to have less time to actually notice the changes in the ball’s movement and even less time to react appropriately to them.

That’s why a deep position like the one Karius had is beneficial in these kinds of scenarios. It doesn’t guarantee the goalkeeper will stop knuckleballs and dizzying dips, but it does give them a better opportunity to catch them and react to them better.

In Karius’ case, this benefitted him on two of the super saves he made. In the case of Weghorst’s shot, along with giving him extra time to see the ball after his vision was slightly obstructed, the deep position also gave him ample time to process the clockwise spin on Weghorst’s shot, which was pulling the ball inwards towards Karius’ goal.

With enough time to see this spin, Karius is able to tweak his dive so that he’s attacking the ball at a more upwards angle rather than (which, along with helping him reach the ball, puts him in a position where he could still reach the shot if it curves more to his left than anticipated) an angle more parallel to the ground.

The other example where the deep position helped Karius get a better read of a shot was in the 74th minute. 

In this play, Manchester United’s Marcus Rashford breaks towards Karius’ goal before taking a heavy touch to bring the ball onto his right foot and closer to the centre of the pitch. Here, about 24 yards away, Rashford unleashes a low show aimed at Karius’ bottom right corner. 

Karius, who has a clear sight of the shot, dives to his right side and parries the ball away to a defender.

In this example, Karius is backtracking as Rashford comes closer to his goal. He’s constantly readjusting his body and positioning to follow Rashford’s movements; and by the time Rashford strikes the ball, Karius is about four yards away from his line. 

Karius had a clear view of the shot here, so he didn’t have to worry about seeing the ball late. But what the deep position gave him was ample time to process and react to Rashford’s long shot; and that came in handy because Karius was almost caught off-guard by this shot.

As Rashford brings the ball to his right side, Karius starts readjusting his body so that he’s in a more central position — which makes sense because this is a position that gives him the best chance of stopping a shot aimed anywhere. 

In doing this, Karius also appears to prepare his body for a dive to his left side. When Karius takes a bounding step to prepare himself for Rashford’s shot, his weight appears to be shifted to his left side, likely in anticipation of a shot to his left.

But as it turns out, Rashford aims his shot to Karius’ right side. So now, Karius has to stop his movement to his left and counter that momentum by diving to his right side.

The result is a slightly frantic, slightly backward dive. But in the end, Karius stops the shot, due in part to his deep position giving him ample time and space to recover from his assumption and readjust his body. 

Had Karius not backtracked or readjusted his position to be deeper in his goal, Karius might not have had enough time to fix his stance and dive to his right in time.

Even a yard more away from his goal might not have been enough for Karius to get most of his hand in front of this shot. It’s very fine margins, but that’s sometimes the difference between a good save and a goal. And in this case, thanks to his deep positioning, Karius was able to recover in time to come out on top.

Evolving and reacting

The third save I’d like to highlight was his save on Bruno Fernandes in second half stoppage time.

In the 90th+3 minute, Newcastle United had possession in Manchester United’s half. The Magpies had all 10 of their outfielders in Manchester United’s half, but a bad touch by Sven Botman led ot him being dispossessed by Scott McTominay.

In an instant, McTominay found Fernandes, who took three touches to break into Karius’ box. There, he faked a shot with his right foot to shake a Newcastle player out of his way, before pulling the ball onto his left foot.

With loads of space to work with, Fernandes brought the ball back onto his right foot and fired a shot. But Karius came out of his goal, spread his body, and denied Fernandes the insurance goal.

According to John Harrison’s model, this was the most difficult save Karius made in the final; it had a 41% chance of beating Karius

Yet Karius came out on top, and a significant reason why was his awareness of when to cut the angle and when to remain on his line.

As Fernandes carries the ball towards Karius’ box, the German goalkeeper is backtracking towards his goal. He takes big steps towards his line while keeping his frame facing Fernandes.

This was the correct decision by Karius. Although Fernandes was unmarked for large parts of his run and Karius had an initial starting position near the edge of his box, Karius would not have been able to make much of a play here. There was a lot of space between Karius and Fernandes, and while Fernandes was taking heavy touches, he was still closer to the ball than Karius. 

So if Karius decided to attack Fernandes, he would not have been able to get to the ball first, and would’ve just put himself in a position to get exploited by Fernandes, who’d have loads of time to shoot, pass or round the goalkeeper.

Furthermore, Newcastle’s Joe Willock was in pursuit of Fernandes and was within tackling/blocking distance as Fernandes entered the box. So if Karius attacked Fernandes here, he would’ve just been getting in Willock’s way and again making it easier for Fernandes to make a play.

But football is not a linear spot, and the goalkeeper often has to reconsider courses of action due to an evolving play. This was the case in this play and why Karius, moments after backtracking, decided to come forward and cut the angle down.

With Willock closing in on him, Fernandes goes into a fake shooting motion to pull him into the play. He then cuts the ball onto his left instead, leaving Willock to recover from his failed tackle.

Now, Fernandes is free in Newcastle’s box without a challenger in sight, and Karius has to reconsider his position in this play. He hops forward, in anticipation of a left-footed shot from Fernandes.

But when Fernandes pulls the ball back onto his right foot, Karius takes two big steps forward and spreads his body in anticipation for the shot.

These actions not only made a significant difference in Karius’ ability to stop this shot, but they’re also the perfect examples of Karius’ good goalkeeping IQ. 

Firstly, the reason why Karius hops forward when Fernandes pulls the ball to his left rather than aggressively attack the opponent has to do with how close the ball was to Fernandes’ feet. 

When the ball is on or near the foot of an attacker in a shooting position, a goalkeeper will want to be as close to their set stance as possible. This is because a shot is likely — sometimes even certainly — coming from an attacker, and if the goalkeeper is not in their balanced ready position, they could get caught flat-footed, off-guard or unbalanced by the shot.

That’s why the short hop was the right decision by Karius. Not only did it cut down the angle slightly, but it also made sure Karius was in his set position, with his body weight equally balanced and his feet in contact with the ground. This would’ve helped Karius react immediately if Fernandes struck a shot in that moment.

But when Fernandes starts pulling the ball back to his right side, that’s when Karius intelligently pounces. In that fraction of a second, it’s clear a shot will not immediately be coming from Fernandes. So to exploit that, Karius takes a couple of big steps forward to cut the angle even more.

These steps are usually reserved for moments like this, when a player takes a heavy touch (they can’t shoot the ball if it’s nowhere near their feet) or when they’re trying to switch it from one foot to another. That’s because a big step like Karius’ helps the goalkeeper cover a lot more ground than a small hop, but it also takes them out of their set position — their body weight is unbalanced, their feet are not in contact with the ground and they’re not ready to make a save attempt. 

So when Fernandes has the ball close to his left foot in a shooting position, it didn’t make sense for Karius to sacrifice his set stance. But when Fernandes is making a move to bring the ball onto his right foot, Karius has a moment to make his own big move.

These were not easy decisions for Karius to make in the moment; they all happened within a window of a few seconds, even milliseconds in some cases. But Karius did an excellent job picking the right moment to backtrack, the right moment to hop forward, and the right moment to aggressively cut the angle. 

These are decisions that even some of the world’s best goalkeepers struggle with (like Ederson Moraes). But Karius did a great job making the right moves at the right time, and I think it says a lot about his goalkeeping IQ.

Something to build off of

Despite Loris Karius’ decent shot-stopping performance, there were some who tried to find fault in his game.

Manchester United’s second goal, which went in due to a wicked deflection, had some pundits like Gary Neville and Jamie Carragher saying Karius should’ve done better because Karius was “going down very early.”

That’s silly criticism, in my opinion. Rashford’s shot was initially a low one, so it made sense that Karius’ momentum was carrying him downward. Had Rashford’s shot not been deflected, he probably stops the attempt. But given the circumstances, I think he gave the best effort he could to stop the shot.

If anything, this criticism shows how some people hyperfocus on goalkeepers with a bad reputation like Karius, to the extent that they look for errors in goals that were not the goalkeeper’s fault.

Putting that aside though, this was the performance Karius needs to get his career back on track. 

Given how long ago his last competitive appearance was, the perfect redemption match would’ve been one that gave Karius the opportunity to work on various aspects of his own game — and that’s what he got last weekend. He was able to get his mind used to the flow and evolving pace of competitive football again, his feet used to readjusting and shuffling in and out of different positions, and his body used to a variety of different dives and saving techniques.

On top of that, he was able to calm the self-doubts he might’ve had. After so long without action, it’s easy for a goalkeeper to start to doubt just how good of a shot-stopper they still are, and overreact to how much of their quality they might’ve lost. Couple this with a lot of the unnecessarily negative attention Karius was getting pre-match, and he probably was feeling nervous going into the EFL Cup final.

But this performance should do wonders to quench those self-doubts. He proved — both to the world and himself — that he still has enough goalkeeping IQ needed to perform at a competitive level, and that he can make the big saves when his team needs him to.

The fact that all three of the saves I analyzed were made after he conceded two goals speaks to that. After conceding twice, it would’ve been easy for Karius to get very nervous and try to do too much on some of these shots (such as taking an unnecessarily aggressive position or cutting the angle too early.) But he didn’t let the goals or his nerves throw him off of his game, and that is something Karius should be praised for. It shows that he’s evolved from the Karius of the past, who didn’t inspire confidence and appeared to get demoralized by every goal he conceded, whether it was his fault or not.

Unless some more coincidental events happen, this was probably the last we’ve seen of Karius this season. But while another appearance may be out of the cards in the near future, his and role is appreciated by Newcastle coach Eddie Howe.

“He’s an important member of our goalkeeping team,” he said. “It’s great to have Nick [Pope] back and Martin [Dúbravka] back, two top goalkeepers, but Loz is certainly valued by us.”

And while his future remains uncertain, Karius seems confident in his abilities again.

“I’m still hungry and I feel like I’ve still got a lot of years to play, and I’ve shown [in the final] that I don’t need to hide anything — and that I can still perform at this level,” he said following the final.

Mouhamad Rachini is a journalist and goalkeeper enthusiast. You can find him on Twitter via @BlameTheKeeper.

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