Amid Liverpool injury concerns, one thing is keeping trophy hopes alive

At the start of this season, Liverpool’s back-up stopper still had more years to his name than senior appearances for the club. While that’s not too much of an issue for youngsters making their way in the game, Caoimhin Kelleher isn’t really a youth candidate any longer: even in goalkeeper terms, 25 years old is pushing towards mid-career territory and with Alisson Becker ahead of him at Anfield, regular minutes have always been hard to come by.

But this season has been slightly different. A start at Brentford on short notice, after the Brazilian suffered an apparent hamstring injury on the eve of the game, brought Kelleher up to 14 appearances for the campaign, 35 for the club overall.

It’s easily his best season in terms of game time, but also for consistency of performances, with Jurgen Klopp describing his showing in the 4-1 win at the Gtech Community Stadium as “exceptional”.

Already the Reds’ League Cup goalkeeper, the Irishman has also been a beneficiary of Liverpool playing in the Europa League – as well as Alisson’s ongoing penchant for collecting relatively short-term absences.

Now Kelleher, who is in the midst of perhaps his most notable run in the team, faces the prospect of trying to win a second domestic cup medal and will play a pivotal role in Liverpool’s Premier League title chances – a period which could arguably make his career and push his international prospects.

Kelleher will play his fifth league game of the season against Luton (Getty)
Kelleher will play his fifth league game of the season against Luton (Getty)

That said, we’ve been here before with Kelleher, of course. Two years ago he was the Reds’ hero in the penalty shootout win over Chelsea in the Carabao Cup final; copy and paste for next weekend, in fixture terms. The suspicion was that the taste of success might whet his appetite for more games sooner or later and there were certainly transfer links over summer, but no move emerged and Kelleher, capped 11 times so far by Republic of Ireland, will have two years left on his deal come the end of 2023/24.

By then he’ll have played in a second Wembley final and his medal count could be increased there or elsewhere; it’s not certain he’ll continue to be No 1 in European games the longer the Reds continue their journey, but Liverpool remain top of the Premier League for now and inclusion against Luton in the midweek will be his fifth league appearance of the campaign – the threshold to guarantee a medal, should his team go on to finish top.

The cup final will have been the date circled on his calendar, but Alisson’s recent absences mean Kelleher has featured against Burnley and Brentford already this month, with the Hatters yet to come. While not the highest-profile of opponents, consistently impressive displays against this type of regular Premier League opposition are arguably most important for the stand-in to shine in, whether that is to reinforce the club’s belief in him... or to attract interest from further afield this summer.

Not that it’ll be Klopp’s responsibility by then, having opted to move on, but it’s a fair bet the manager would be keen on keeping Kelleher around all the same.

Jurgen Klopp embraces his stand-in goalkeeper (Getty)
Jurgen Klopp embraces his stand-in goalkeeper (Getty)

“He was outstanding today; if Ireland have a better goalkeeper then respect,” the Liverpool boss said after the win over Brentford. “We gave him more games this season than previously and it’s well-deserved and now the situation with Ali [Becker] being injured shows it makes sense.

“It was an A+ performance today.”

Perhaps the timing is fortunate, but there’s surely not much luck involved in the fact Liverpool keep finding extremely capable replacements when their senior stars miss out. While Kelleher did so in place of Alisson, Conor Bradley also returned with another accomplished display at right-back, easing the absence of Trent Alexander-Arnold.

But now Klopp will need to potentially do the same in further positions, replacing three of his most in-form players who went off against Brentford in Curtis Jones, Diogo Jota and Darwin Nunez.

Kelleher’s safe hands left Liverpool well-covered in goal against Brentford (Getty)
Kelleher’s safe hands left Liverpool well-covered in goal against Brentford (Getty)

“That part of the game is not good but we can’t change it. The performance level could have dropped but it was exceptional, by far the best game since [I’ve been] here, here at Brentford. I saw a top game,” Klopp said.

“We have to see, we don’t know yet. Curtis got a knock above the ankle, we’ll have to see what he felt. It must be something because he would have played on at all costs. Diogo looks the worst, I heard the pictures didn’t look great. Darwin we took off because he said he feels something ‘little’ and today that’s enough to push the brakes.”

Those are issues to solve for another time, even if they may give the manager a real headache.

In goal, though, he has no such concerns. Even with maybe the league’s finest No 1 out, he has a stand-in in standout form, one who is – judging by his showing at Brentford - ready to play a significant part in the Reds’ trophy push.