I DON’T want to be that fella, you know.
I don’t want to be the miserable old sod sat in the Kemlyn (old habits die hard) howling about Dejan Lovren’s defensive shortcomings, Divock Origi’s bluntness, Adam Lallana’s sixth-form common room bumfluff, or Joe Allen’s doomed attempt to reinvent himself as the least intimidating member of the Three Musketeers.
I don’t want to moan, endlessly, unremittingly, pointlessly. There’s already way too much of that going on and I think most of us have had enough of it.
I don’t want to. But I’m here to talk about Simon Mignolet again, so all bets are off. So instead, it might be best if you go for a walk or listen to a Spandau Ballet LP or whatever it is you young people get up to these days. I won’t be offended.
Still here? On your head be it, then. You’ve been warned.
I expressed my reservations about Mignolet at the start of the season. About his inability to make decisions. About his lack of assertiveness. About how, in 2014-15, he deftly negotiated a journey from the ridiculous to the sublime but, like an inquisitive pooch returning to its own steaming mess, ultimately found himself right back where he had started.
I don’t think I was alone in declaring this season to be make or break for the amiable Belgian. There was a massive onus on him to impress, to demonstrate, week after week, that he was the goalkeeper Liverpool needed, rather than the one it deserved. To labour the point unnecessarily, he had to be Batman when too often in the past he had been the motionless by-stander waiting for Batman to show up and save the day. If the cape fits….
So. We’re three months into the campaign now. How’s he getting on?
Someone wise and French, possibly Jean-Michel Ferri but it’s hard to be certain, once noted, “the more things change, the more they stay the same.” In French, obviously. For Liverpool, for Mignolet, it seems an apt summation. Brendan Rodgers has left the building; Jurgen Klopp has become the latest heir to Shankly’s weighty legacy. A phalanx of new attackers has swept away the previous incumbents, such as they were, yet a shortage of goals remains a major concern. And the defeat to Crystal Palace confirmed that, despite initial promise, unfathomable defensive errors have yet to be fully eradicated from the team’s itinerary.
For his part, Mignolet started the season with three successive clean sheets, looking reasonably secure in the process. Maybe this time the penny had dropped. Er, nope. West Ham stuck three past him, as Liverpool’s entire backline displayed all the assuredness and dexterity of Olly Murs presenting Question Time. The same problems surfaced at Old Trafford, with another three goals cheaply conceded. The familiar uninspiring, uncertain Mignolet was back. I’m not sure he’d ever really gone away.
And this, for me, is at the heart of it. Strip away the vagaries of form and fortune, good or bad. Essentially, what we all want is for Simon Mignolet to be a different type of goalkeeper. One who dominates his area, anticipates potential threats before they develop, directs, cajoles and, when needed, roundly bollocks his defenders, and has the calmness to accept possession and distribute the ball like a latter-day Alan Hansen. What we have isn’t far from the precise opposite of that.
Stunning save from Simon Mignolet for Belgium tonight.pic.twitter.com/pYjnjqQPiU
— The Anfield Chat (@TheAnfieldChat) November 13, 2015
We’re talking about Mignolet’s fundamental style here. His approach to the game, his idea of what a keeper should be. This is the way he’s always played. It’s not something that can be casually tinkered with, or fixed. Some might say there’s nothing to fix. It all depends on what you want your goalkeeper to give you, what your expectations are. And what fits best with the kind of team Liverpool aim to be. But one thing’s for sure; it’s all but impossible for a keeper to change his entire playing style, particularly at Mignolet’s stage of development. This is what you get.
It’s not even as if he’s been spectacularly awful so far this season, though at times against Palace he straddled the divide between “competent” and “Tim Howard” like a pissed-up Mr Blobby walking a tightrope in a wind tunnel. There have been few outright clangers, certainly not of the magnitude of Joe Hart’s recent horror against Norwich. And it’s only fair to note that his performances in the Everton and Tottenham games earned his team a point they may not otherwise have come away with. It seems somehow typical of Mignolet’s luck that in each case the spotlight was focused squarely on the occupant of the manager’s chair, and his own contribution largely went unheralded.
However, it’s hard to escape the murmurs of unease that swirl round Anfield when he is called to action. For every cross he refuses to come and collect, every through ball he delays advancing towards, every clearance he skews or backpass he mis-controls, the discontent grows. The groans build, the abuse cascades down from the stands. It’s not an atmosphere conducive to enhancing the confidence of someone already prone to over-analysis and self-doubt.
There seems to be an unmistakeable groundswell of opinion in favour of replacing Mignolet as Liverpool’s Number 1. Unless Klopp sees something that few others do, his position will come under serious threat in the months to come. More than two years after his arrival the same old flaws persist, flaws that should not be visible in a genuinely top-class goalkeeper. Flaws that are so ingrained in his approach to the role that they aren’t going away any time soon.
In a sense, he has become a microcosm of this Liverpool team. Too polite, too passive, too accepting of defeats or setbacks. Lacking presence or genuine leadership. The impact that a Neuer, a De Gea, a Cech, a Courtois, could have in providing a solid, reliable base, one which exudes confidence and assurance, is immeasurable.
That’s what we need to aim for. If nothing else, it might keep the Kemlyn happy. For a couple of minutes, at least.
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Pics: David Rawcliffe-Propaganda-Photo