Jack Hallows believes Simon Mignolet has done enough to earn more respect from the Reds fanbase this season but does the Belgian have a long-term future at the club?
He’s been the subject of controversy for as long as I can remember now but Simon Mignolet has most certainly enjoyed somewhat of a career resurgence since returning to the starting XI back in December against Middlesbrough.
This time last season there were massive questions over the Belgian’s future, with 99% of fans certain – or just hopeful – that he’d move on last summer.
Now, however, the 29-year-old is staking a massive claim to not only remain at Liverpool for the long term but remain the number 1 goalkeeper.
Lack of confidence inspiration but no longer the weakest link?
For me, Mignolet is no longer the weakest link in the Liverpool back four and his performances since being brought back into the side in December are testament to that.
The 29-year-old’s shot stopping has been much improved while his general goalkeeping ability – command over his box, quickness of thought, decision-making and positioning – have all looked far better than they did even back in the opening weeks of this season.
That being said, however, the Belgian still does not inspire confidence whenever he has the ball and a large number of our fans will often tell you that they go into games expecting him to do something daft that costs a goal.
It’s both a fair and unfair point to make really. On one hand, the Belgian is renowned for being stupidly error prone at times and there have been certain situations this season where he’s not helped himself.
However, Mignolet has only made one error this season that has directly led to a goal in 22 appearances. Some may argue that even just one is far too many but considering last season the Belgian made a total of four errors leading to a goal across 34 League games, I’d say he’s been much improved.
By further comparison of Mignolet’s record against the rest of the top six goalkeepers so far in 2016/17, he has the same total of errors as David De Gea, Willy Caballero and Petr Cech while being less than Hugo Lloris (2) of Tottenham Hotspur. The point to take from this? All goalkeepers make a mistake every now and then and while Mignolet’s prior reputation for making gaffes is not exactly a ringing endorsement of the Belgian, he’s been much improved this season.
Finally, while goalkeepers aren’t always going to win you games – it’s one of the hardest jobs on the football pitch – it’s generally expected that a top keeper will be capable of winning you 10+ points a season.
When Petr Cech signed for Arsenal, Wenger and his players gushed at the fact the former Chelsea man would be worth 15 points a season and for me, this is an area in which I think Mignolet has been unfairly criticised this season. The Belgian won us the three points at Stoke on the weekend with his two saves, while penalty saves from Walcott and Costa were worth four points in total.
Add to that the point we took at Old Trafford due to stops from Mkhitaryan and Zlatan and Mignolet has already earned us 8 points with his performances this season. He’s not perfect but on big occasions, he’s shown himself to be far more capable of stepping up to the plate.
Where he must still improve
While I don’t believe that Mignolet is the weak link in the Liverpool back four anymore, I do still think improvement is needed.
There are still moments when the Belgian looks susceptible to high balls into his box and while his newfound confidence in coming for crosses and looking to punch at every opportunity is promising, he still hasn’t entirely ironed flapping at the ball out of his game. I also believe he has a long way to go to start earning back the fans trust.
The stopper is still a source of nerves for many – especially in games at Anfield – and while Cruyff turns and flicks over players like Aguero who attempt to charge him down look brilliant when they come off, they create unneeded tension and anxiety around the ground in situations where a hoofed clearance would definitely suffice.
Lastly, if Mignolet is going to continue being a viable first choice option between the sticks, he has got to improve his use of the ball. While Loris Karius is still very much a raw keeper who will undoubtedly improve hugely in the future, one thing he has going for him is his incredible distribution and ability to pick out teammates with his impressive passing range.
Mignolet has definitely improved in this respect but his tendency to hang onto the ball too long can often see opportunities for counter attacks break down and he’s often far too erratic and inconsistent when it comes to finding teammates. He no longer clears the ball into Row Z every time when under the slightest bit of pressure but he’s got a long way to go.
If Mignolet is to survive long term at Liverpool he’s going to have to continue to work hard and ensure he remains on the upward trajectory he’s shown himself capable of over the recent months of this season.
His improvements have certainly gone unfairly under the radar but there is no doubting that the Reds could still do better. However, if the Belgian manages to improve his distribution and continue playing with high confidence levels, he may just buy himself a few more years on Merseyside.