Is Simon Mignolet's criticism fair: Weak link or not to blame?

The Belgian keeper's form has come under the microscope lately as Liverpool continue to leak goals.

Simon Mignolet started off his season at Liverpool in promising fashion. Even though he had his shaky moments, he is remembered for his double save to deny Stoke City a draw at Anfield on the opening day of the season, and give Liverpool the best possible start.

But Mignolet’s form has come under the microscope somewhat since then – more so over the Christmas period when errors against Manchester City and Chelsea ended up costing Liverpool. An error against Stoke City and confusion involving himself and Glen Johnson against Aston Villa led to Christian Benteke easily heading home in a 2-2 draw have also led to some question marks hanging over him as to whether he is the top-class goalkeeper Liverpool need.

There are other criticisms of Mignolet: that he doesn’t come for the ball enough, that his distribution isn’t the best and that he doesn’t look comfortable on the ball. These accusations couldn’t be levelled at his predecessor Pepe Reina, who performed the role of ‘sweeper keeper’ to a very high standard, which helped the Spaniard to three golden glove awards during his time on Merseyside.

There have been several reasons cited for Liverpool’s leaky defence this season – Mamadou Sakho being absent is one of those which we have analysed – some will say it is because the amount of times Liverpool’s back-line has changed this season.

But let’s have a look at Mignolet’s performances in particular. The Belgian has appeared in every Premier League game this season for the Reds and is undoubtedly Brendan Rodgers' number one for this season.

But with Liverpool playing such a high pressing game at times it is surprising that out of all the first-choice goalkeepers in the league, only Swansea City's Michel Vorm and Manchester United's David De Gea sit below him in the statistics when it comes to playing the 'sweeper keeper' role - though Vorm has spent a spell on the sidelines through injury.

NameTeamPosTotal Keeper SweeperAppsMins
Tim Krul Newcastle GK 47 27 2,430
Hugo Lloris Spurs GK 42 26 2,340
Wojciech Szczesny Arsenal GK 34 27 2,430
Joe Hart Man City GK 21 19 1,710
Tim Howard Everton GK 21 25 2,183
Artur Boruc Southampton GK 20 20 1,768
Jussi Jääskeläinen West Ham GK 11 18 1,620
Petr Cech Chelsea GK 10 27 2,430
Simon Mignolet Liverpool GK 9 27 2,430
David de Gea Man Utd GK 6 27 2,430

The table above shows the sides in the top ten and their first choice goalkeepers fulfilling that role, with the likes of Jussi Jaaskelainen and Joe Hart ahead of Mignolet having not played as many Premier League games as him. 

Another criticism is his reluctance to come for the ball from crosses. Again focusing on the top ten clubs as it perhaps reflects a similarity in terms of the amount of pressure they will be under barring the odd erroneous stat, it shows there is a degree of reluctance from the Belgian again.

NameTeamPosTotal High ClaimAppsMins
Wojciech Szczesny Arsenal GK 40 27 2,430
Tim Krul Newcastle GK 35 27 2,430
Hugo Lloris Spurs GK 34 26 2,340
Tim Howard Everton GK 33 25 2,183
Artur Boruc Southampton GK 29 20 1,768
Petr Cech Chelsea GK 29 27 2,430
David de Gea Man Utd GK 24 27 2,430
Joe Hart Man City GK 23 19 1,710
Simon Mignolet Liverpool GK 22 27 2,430
Jussi Jääskeläinen West Ham GK 20 18 1,620

However, there is the argument that Mignolet has been left heavily exposed by the men in front of him which you could argue is why he is joint-third on the list of keepers who have made the most saves - with only Cardiff's David Marshall and Norwich City's John Ruddy ahead of him. Out of the first-choice goalkeepers in the top ten of the Premier League, it's him along with the Arsenal stopper who lead the way on saves per game.

NameTeamPosSaves / appsAppsMins
Simon Mignolet Liverpool GK 3.11 27 2,430
Wojciech Szczesny Arsenal GK 3.11 27 2,430
Tim Krul Newcastle GK 3.00 27 2,430
Hugo Lloris Spurs GK 2.92 26 2,340
Keiren Westwood Sunderland GK 2.90 10 853
David de Gea Man Utd GK 2.89 27 2,430
Tim Howard Everton GK 2.84 25 2,183
Joe Hart Man City GK 2.74 19 1,710
Artur Boruc Southampton GK 2.55 20 1,768
Petr Cech Chelsea GK 2.19 27 2,430

While some of the criticism is clearly warranted, there are times when Mignolet has shown why Liverpool invested £9million to bring him to Anfield from Sunderland. A side that attacks a lot is going to need to have a goalkeeper capable of making a string of saves in a game. 

And one final point on distribution. It may not surprise many to see that Mignolet is the highest in terms of accurate passing because of the way Liverpool play by trying to play the ball out from the back instead of hoofing the ball forward.

NameTeamPosPoss Lost AllAppsMins
Tim Krul Newcastle GK 430 27 2,430
Hugo Lloris Spurs GK 407 26 2,340
Petr Cech Chelsea GK 304 27 2,430
Tim Howard Everton GK 288 25 2,183
Simon Mignolet Liverpool GK 285 27 2,430
David de Gea Man Utd GK 282 27 2,430
Artur Boruc Southampton GK 267 20 1,768
Wojciech Szczesny Arsenal GK 264 27 2,430
Jussi Jääskeläinen West Ham GK 258 18 1,620
Joe Hart Man City GK 215 19 1,710

He isn't the worst in absolute terms with losing the ball at all out of the top 10 sides, which you could argue in comparison isn't a bad statistic given that a) he has played every game for Liverpool so far this season and b) Liverpool's style of play.

While Mignolet has had his weak spots this season and has several aspects of his game that need to be worked on, he isn't completely the guilty party. There have been a couple of vital saves that have bailed Liverpool out at times as well as errors and uncertainty at the back. Uncertainty could be put down to many things.

But on the training ground there is work to be done. He needs to be quicker across the ground for the side to play a high line and involve himself more in the 'sweeper keeper' role and have a bit more confidence coming for crosses to reassure a fragile looking defence.

Reina seemed to be a leader behind his back-four, and even on an off day they didn't seem to be doing too badly at times. Maybe that is a quality that needs to be developed off the field to help strengthen the Reds' defence.

image: © Ronnie Macdonald

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