Simon Mignolet

Simon Mignolet

It may seem a little odd to start a season review with the league title very much to play for. If Liverpool can win the next two games in convincing fashion and City drop points just once, the Reds will top the table for the first time in 24 years. That said, the objective at the start of the season was always to finish in the top four; with that particular goal already achieved, anything else is a bonus for a season which was always meant to be one of transition and sustainable growth rather than stratospheric rises to glory. With this in mind, it is about time to start looking at the performance of the squad this season in four key areas – the goalkeeper, the defence, the midfield and the attack. An analysis of the positive and negative aspects of each area could well be handy when looking at which parts of the group need to be strengthened, in order to maintain progress into next season.

Simon Mignolet – Beginnings

A more dramatic introduction to the Liverpool team could scarcely have been imagined for Mignolet. On the very first match of the season, having seen Stoke comprehensively outplayed but beaten just the once, Liverpool seemed poised once again to drop points in the frustrating manner which had come to mark so many recent campaigns. Agger’s bewildering decision to leap with his hand and concede the penalty had almost sucked the life out of Anfield, tens of thousands of supporters already considering the season ahead with trepidation and gloom. The Reds had not just been the better side. They had battered the Stoke defence time and again, with Henderson, Aspas, Sturridge and Coutinho repeatedly bringing the best from Begovic and the Anfield woodwork. It appeared that a belief-inspiring win was about to become a belief-sapping defeat. Enter Simon Mignolet. The save from Walters’ penalty was not particularly good; the Stoke man clearly lacking in belief stroked a tame shot to the corner he had aimed for in almost every one of his prior misses. What was exceptional however, was the follow up save from Jones. Bouncing back to his feet with élan, Mignolet spread himself well and ensured that the goal-bound shot was deflected up and away. Even more impressively, the Belgian was the first one to put a stop to the celebrations and organise his defence for the subsequent corner. The first 3 points of the season were claimed, and a home début that will be remembered for years to come.

Positives

Simon Mignolet

Simon Mignolet

It would have been hard to top such a performance, but Mignolet seemed to be settling in well to life at Liverpool with important saves and clean sheets in the next few games. Already well-known for his shot-stopping ability, Mignolet also revealed himself to be a specialist at one-on-one situations, most notably in the first Merseyside derby. Time and again he managed to keep out the rampant Lukaku as Liverpool abandoned all notion of defending in the search for further goals. Despite a slight dip in form around the Christmas fixtures, excellent reaction saves in important games continued to be a theme throughout the season, from Adam Lallana at Southampton to Wayne Rooney at Old Trafford, and, crucially, Van Wolfswinkel at Norwich. The natural speed and agility of the Belgian, allied to an almost uncanny ability to predict where an opposition striker is likely to shoot, are hugely important attributes to have and ones which will serve both Liverpool and Mignolet well in seasons to come.

Negatives

A few high-profile errors have hampered the goalkeeper’s season, most memorably at Manchester City and Norwich. Although the mishandling of Negredo’s shot at the Etihad was a true anomaly – it is hard to remember another spilled shot all season – the goals at Norwich were a worrying indication of indecision over how to deal with high balls into the area. Mistakes in this department proved costly against Aston Villa, for example, and very nearly cost points against both Fulham and Swansea. A disturbing number of times over the course of the season, Mignolet seemed undecided as to whether or not he should come for the ball, and often took the wrong decision – or the right decision, too late. Given the propensity of this Liverpool side to leak goals against big, physical strikers and teams who are good in the air, it is an area which needs to be addressed rapidly if the team are to build on the success of this season and challenge for silverware again next year. There are, however, mitigating circumstances to these errors which may well help solve the problem in time for the next campaign.

Consistency

Over the course of the season, Mignolet has played with a number of different players in his defence, in a number of different systems. From a back four arrayed in a low block to split centre-backs with a defensive midfielder to three-man and five-man variants of the defence, the tactical changes in defence have left a hard platform for the goalkeeper to build consistency upon. Added to the fact that the crucial injuries Liverpool have suffered have been almost exclusively in defensive positions (a circumstance which will be explored in the review of the defence) it is easy to see why Mignolet has gone from a goalkeeper with one of the highest number of claimed crosses in the league last year to a hesitant, almost timid player whose confidence in himself and those around him appears to be low. Extensive pre-season preparation in these areas and a settled central-defensive pairing ought to help iron out these inconsistencies and see Mignolet add to his already impressive talents as a goalkeeper.

Conclusion

A season of highs and lows for the Belgian ‘keeper, but one which should see most Reds fans satisfied with his performances. If the nagging doubts about his aerial prowess can be dealt with, Mignolet promises to be a solid presence in the Liverpool back line for years to come. At just 25, there is still plenty of time for him to develop and become a goalkeeping legend at the club. A special mention must also go to Brad Jones, who proved himself again to be an able deputy in the cup competitions and who remains and cheap and reliable alternative in case of injury. Unfortunately, however, there seems that there will be no place in the squad for Pepe Reina next year. A goalkeeper of his renown requires more playing time and money than Liverpool can offer at the current time. Having himself endured a turbulent season at Napoli, Reina offers little Mignolet does not, with less potential to improve and a far higher pay packet. With the transfer embargo on Barcelona temporarily lifted and Benitez keen to retain the Spaniard’s services in Italy, there should be no shortage of suitors for his signature. Liverpool fans everywhere will wish him the best and thank him for years of loyal service through a lean time in the club’s history. With the two current goalkeepers well-established, it seems this will be the only business in this department over summer.



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Season Review Series Part One: The Goalkeeper.
Simon Mignolet7
Brad Jones7
7Overall Score

About The Author

Toby Podmore

is a Liverpool-supporting cuckoo from a rugby-mad South African nest in north London, Toby Podmore was brought to Liverpool football club through a soft spot for Michael Owen. With that well and truly gone, his love for the club has remained with him from France to the UK and back again. He now spends his time reading, writing and watching the club from Belfast.

2 Responses

  1. red ted

    A fair assessment but I remain unconvinced by him. His very poor decision making when dealing withcrosses is worrying. Can this be ironed out? Perhaps.

    Reply
    • TobyKopEnd

      Thanks for the reply. I agree he has been inconsistent this season, but his stats from last season where he missed just 3 crosses out of 89 (3.4%) show that he is more than capable of dealing with that kind of situation. By contrast, Reina missed 17.2% of his crosses last year. It’s also worth noting Reina’s numbers have been getting consistently worse whilst Mig’s have got consistently better over the previous 3 years. Have a look over at this article http://basstunedtored.com/2013/06/16/is-mignolet-the-man-to-replace-reina/ for the details!

      Reply

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