The majority of Liverpool fans were either bewildered or furious with the news that Simon Mignolet had recently been ‘rewarded’ a new deal at the club. ‘Rewarded for what?’ was the common question on fans’ lips.
Questions have been raised over the 27 year old Belgian ever since he Liverpool signed him from Sunderland three years ago (for £9 million). The knowledge that Mignolet was signed as an ‘upgrade’ on Pepe Reina seems laughable now.
There have been spells where Mignolet has seemed to justify Liverpool’s decision to sign him, such as his penalty shootout heroics a fortnight ago against Stoke in the Capital One Cup semi-final. Mignolet undoubtedly has talent, but he seems to suffer constantly with his confidence.
Top sides have commanding, assured goalkeeper, attributes Mignolet rarely displays when they are needed. He remains weak at handling crosses, and his positioning and concentration have often been called into question.
Fans of the Belgian stopper will argue that he isn’t helped by a poor defence in front of him, but statistically only Tottenham have faced fewer Premier League shots on target this season than Liverpool. Yet Liverpool have conceded 36 goals, while Tottenham have conceded just 19.
The explanation? Simon Mignolet is simply not good enough for Liverpool.
Mignolet’s defenders will point to the statistic that he kept more clean sheets than any other Premier League keeper in 2015. What was it Mark Twain said about statistics? Even if we take this statistic at face value, there are multitudes of other statistics which beg to differ, and make the news of Mignolet’s contract extension all the more baffling.
As of December 2015, no Premier League player has made more errors that have led directly to a goal in the last 3 PL seasons than Mignolet (8).
An incredible statistic emerged in the aftermath of Liverpool’s dramatic 5-4 victory over Noriwch in January. Before he managed to stop a header from Sebastien Bassong in the 68th minute of the game, Simon had not made a save in 220 minutes of football.
Indeed, he has conceded 12 goals in just 19 shots on target.
Another damning statistic has been widely circulated this week;
Mignolet has cost Liverpool an estimated 15 points this season. How many have De Gea, Cech, Lloris or Butland gained/saved for their respective sides?
On Saturday, Liverpool were 2-0 up and cruising at Anfield against strugglers Sunderland. There was 82 minutes on the clock, and a home victory seemed a foregone conclusion. That all changed when Mignolet somehow failed to keep out Adam Johnson’s tame free-kick, and suddenly Sunderland had a lifeline. On 87 minutes, Jermaine Defoe grabbed an equaliser, and the game finished 2-2.
This is the latest in a long string of miserable defensive mistakes by Liverpool, and Mignolet has given his detractors fuel once again.
A little over 24 hours later, Arsenal were leading Bournemouth by the same score line with ten minutes remaining. Bournemouth – buoyed by their home support – pressed desperately for a way back into the game. The ball dropped to Steve Cook in the box, and Cech made a superb save to deny the defender’s drilled shot. Seconds later, Cech was on his feet again, diving low to his left to deny Harry Arter.
Had Cook or Arter scored, there was every chance that Bournemouth could have nicked an equaliser. But Cech made the important saves at the right time. Indeed, Cech’s former team mate John Terry claimed that Cech would save Arsenal at least 12 points over the course of the season.
Hugo Lloris has saved Spurs countless times this season, and how often do fans and pundits alike speculate where Manchester United would be in the table without David de Gea?
That is the difference between having a world class goalkeeper and an average one. In the Premier League, and particularly this season, it has never been harder to earn three points, and consistent goalkeeping errors are unacceptable, particularly at a club like Liverpool.
Much has been made of Liverpool’s vulnerability from set pieces – and while the defence certainly shoulders some of the blame – it is difficult to defend without confidence in your goalkeeper. More often than not, Mignolet looks indecisive, and uncomfortable under high balls and crosses. This breeds confusion, and hesitancy throughout the side, and opposition have been capitalizing on it all season.
Mignolet would surely have been dropped by now, had number two Adam Bogdan not proved himself to be woefully inept and inadequate. There have been recent calls for young goalkeeper Danny Ward to be given a chance between the posts, and Tuesday’s FA Cup replay with West Ham would be the perfect opportunity to give the young ‘keeper his debut.
Mignolet may have just signed a new contract extension, but if Liverpool are serious about attaining and cementing a place in the top 4, he can only serve as a number two at best.
The first step to building a solid defence – something which is sorely needed at Liverpool – is having confidence in your goalkeeper. And after three years, it is impossible to have confidence in Simon Mignolet.
If you still have any doubts, ask yourself this: in how many Premier League first XI’s would Mignolet start?
By David Smith