LIVERPOOL, England -- Former Liverpool goalkeeper Sander Westerveld was unusually calm before games. Before playing, Westerveld would end up drinking plenty of coffee to generate some artificial anxiety that would hopefully keep him on edge across 90 minutes. It is a surprising insight into life as a goalkeeper, especially considering the position brings untold pressure and often irreversible, negative consequences when errors are made.
"There's nothing people have to feel sorry for [us]. We chose the position and the pressure comes with it," Liverpool goalkeeper Loris Karius tells ESPN FC in an exclusive interview.
Karius, 24, has lived with these demands for most of his life, having played in goal from an early age. Known to Liverpool's coaching staff as a laid-back character, the German is well-equipped to deal with the mental requirements of playing in goal for the five-time European Cup winners.
Karius schedules his days and weeks in great detail in order to be 100 percent ready when matchday comes around, meaning his diet, sleeping pattern, training and warm-ups are tailored ahead of upcoming fixtures. He tries to get "eight or nine hours [sleep], at least" and prefers to spend 45-50 minutes warming up before the game to ensure he has a precious 15-minute period before kick-off to rest, get changed and not feel rushed -- as opposed to his rival for the No.1 spot, Simon Mignolet, who wants a longer, more active warm-up.
"For me personally, I don't want to do too much before the game, just to save myself a bit," Karius says. "It's just important that you plan your week with food and everything to try and be on your highest level on a matchday. I just try to do everything possible for it. That's all you can do really."
Preparation for a goalkeeper is just as thorough as it is for any outfield player but in general, a goalkeeper's work in the build-up is only often recognised when they save a penalty kick.
At Liverpool, the close-knit unit of goalkeepers (Karius, Mignolet and Danny Ward) are in goalkeeper-specific meetings run by goalkeeping coach John Achterberg on a nearly daily basis. The meetings mainly consists of poring over video clips cut by one of Liverpool's analysts, sourced from training sessions, previous games and the opposition's matches. Like their rivals, Liverpool have access to technology that can provide them with in-depth data on a goalkeeper's workload, movements and diving efforts.
Preparing for a game, these analysis sessions can focus on an opponent's traits and tendencies. For example, when Liverpool play Stoke City, they forewarn their goalkeepers of the need to constantly be aware of their position because of Charlie Adam's history of shots towards goal from his own half. But for the most part, goalkeeping remains extremely instinctive.
When asked whether he studies a striker's idiosyncrasies, Karius, shaking his head, says: "For me, it's not something I particularly like to do because if you focus on what he did before or what's going to happen and it goes it the other way then I think it's even worse. To a certain point, I think it's good to analyse but from there on you also just have to focus on the game. At the end of the day, you never really know. All the statistics don't help you if you don't know what's going to happen."
Each training session for the goalkeepers at Melwood is specifically tailored to Liverpool's upcoming opponent. They also take part in five-a-side matches with the outfield players to hone their ball skills in line with Jurgen Klopp's instructions.
"I'm fine [playing five-a-side]. It's fun and I think I'm not too bad either!" says Karius.
Regarding his training methods, Karius respects the process. "We look at the opponent: the corners, free-kicks and all that stuff," he says. "Just so we have an idea of what's coming up in the next game. This year it's hard to do a lot of training because of all the games, the recovery, the travelling. John [Achterberg] is always up for new stuff and new exercises. We always learn new stuff. There's not a routine."
The postmatch debrief is similarly as detailed, even assessing their goalkeeper's body language during a game. During his last outing, at Sevilla in the Champions League, Karius was out quickly as Wissam Ben Yedder went through on goal in the first half. The striker ended up sliding his effort just past the far post and even though Karius did not touch the ball in that incident, his positioning was seen to be just as important as pulling of a save.
In their review of the game, although the analysts believed Karius' stance could have been ever so slightly adjusted to have his body lower, the footage showed his alignment to be flawless, leaving with Ben Yedder with little, if none, of the goal open.
"I think it's important to make the simple things right: the easy saves, the catches, commanding the box. On top of that, if you make a super save then that's great. It's the main base as a goalkeeper," says Karius. "The spectacular things come automatically if you're a good goalkeeper but it's very important that you do all the basics right."
For all the focus on preparation, the reality of playing for Liverpool means Karius may not be overly busy and can go long periods of matches without being called upon. That in itself still requires superb concentration, levels similar to that of an exam, which can leave goalkeepers mentally tired after the final whistle. Don't rule out the physical, too: Liverpool's data shows that goalkeepers cover, on average, around five kilometres in a game.
"I think it's more fun [than an exam]!" Karius says. "It's a high level of concentration because you have to try to read situations before they happen. You have to know what's around you, not just where the ball is, [but] what's happening or what could happen on the other side. There's a lot of things you have to take care of.
"It's not the running, but all the focusing makes you really tired sometimes. For the [outfield] players it's maybe the physical part, but for us it's the concentration part. As a goalkeeper you have games where you're really exhausted afterwards even though you didn't run as much."
Relaxation time is, therefore, important. Staff at Liverpool make a conscious effort to try and not not disturb their goalkeepers once they have left the Melwood training facility or Anfield after a day's work.
"Sometimes after a game, it can happen that you don't sleep very well because you think of everything that happened, especially if you played the whole game," Karius admits. "[To switch off] you go home and relax, watch some TV, spend some time with your friends: just normal stuff, nothing too special.
"I don't have that much time to go in the city because we play every three days and you're in hotels and everything, so you're quite happy when you can just relax at home."