Liverpool: Why There Can't Be A Balanced Debate In The Goalkeeper Conversation | The Anfield Wrap

SINSHEIM, GERMANY - Monday, August 14, 2017: Liverpool's goalkeeper Loris Karius and goalkeeper Simon Mignolet during a training session ahead of the UEFA Champions League Play-Off 1st Leg match against TSG 1899 Hoffenheim at the Rhein-Neckar-Arena. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

THE Anfield Wrap’s Paul Cope wrote an article about Simon Mignolet on Wednesday which raised some interesting points.

One particularly interesting point raised was that you can simultaneously think that Liverpool could do with a better number one but also not think that Mignolet is absolutely shite. I’m absolutely adamant that the club should be investing in a new goalkeeper as soon as possible, but even I don’t think he’s shite. Not in a Roy Hodgson as a manager kind of way, at least.

Yet there was something I felt was missing within Paul’s article that sums up how I, and perhaps other supporters who don’t like Mignolet, feel.

I think one of the big problems around the goalkeepers right now is that supporters don’t seem to be able to have a proper, balanced conversation. Perhaps there’s an extent to which that is down to the alternatives to the Belgian. After all, if you’re not a fan of his then you must be saying you want Loris Karius in goal, mustn’t you? And we all know Karius is absolutely shite, isn’t he? The answer to both of those questions is not necessarily.

What grates most when it comes to conversations around the goalkeeper is the fact that Mignolet’s “improvement” over the last 12 months means that some supporters are willing to make excuses for him every time Liverpool concede. Prior to Leicester at the weekend The Reds had conceded 12 goals with the Belgian between the sticks and I didn’t see him get criticism for any of them. In his article Paul quite rightly points out that he made some good saves against Manchester City, for example, but fails to acknowledge that for one of them he was beaten at his near post.

It hasn’t mattered who Liverpool have been playing or how the goal has come about, Mignolet couldn’t have done anything about any of them. Even at the weekend there were people defending his every move. There’s was “nothing he could have done” about the first goal because Shinji Okazaki was holding onto him. Never mind that goalkeepers up and down the country push attackers off them every single weekend to give themselves a good run at a corner. It’s irrelevant that he had two free hands by the time he actually jumped for and missed the ball.

Then there’s the second goal, when the stopper pushed the ball smack bang into the centre of the box rather than over the bar for a corner. According to his staunchest defenders ‘keepers are “grateful to get anything” on a shot like that and couldn’t possibly help where it goes after that. It’s not his fault that he wasn’t able to push it behind, he did the best that he was able to.

LEICESTER, ENGLAND - Saturday, September 23, 2017: Liverpool's goalkeeper Simon Mignolet looks dejected as Shinji Okazaki grabs the ball out of the net after their second goal during the FA Premier League match between Leicester City and Liverpool at the King Power Stadium. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

As for the penalty, I still to this day don’t understand what he was thinking. Whatever you think of the ref, why the hell was Mignolet even giving him a question to answer by running out and trying to kick the ball rather than using his hands? You had people slowing the incident down to “prove” he got a touch of the ball rather than just admitting he messed up. He also got caught in possession of the ball at one point, as Karius did against Arsenal, but little fuss was made. It was like it never happened.

Has Mignolet improved over the past year? Absolutely, it would be folly to say otherwise. But I’m not convinced he’s improved as much as some people say he has. I think it’s a case of expectations being lowered to mean that no goal is his fault unless he literally boots the ball into the back of his own net.

Then there’s the curious case of Karius. His numbers from his time in Germany suggest that he’s a much better goalkeeper than we’ve been watching, where he appears to be made of smoke. The goals that he’s conceded haven’t been world beaters, with Tuesday night’s in Moscow being a prime example. Yet still, the conversation isn’t balanced. If that had been Mignolet then I’d be willing to bet that there would be scores of people lining up to say that the ball was hit at an incredible pace and that he saw it late because of the wall.

Perhaps a better example is the miss by Daniel Sturridge. For a striker of his quality, that miss was every bit as bad as Karius not making the save, yet I’ve seen people say that he’d have scored it if he’d been playing more and “built up a rhythm”. That’s often the case with outfield players; they’re excused a few poor games because they’ve been out for so long, so why don’t we afford the same leeway to the goalkeeper? Where are the calls for him to be given a run in the team to see if he relaxes into his role? Yes he had a run in the team last season, but he’d only just got over breaking his finger and was new to the Premier League.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying I think Karius is better than Mignolet. I’m just pointing out the hypocrisy of the way the conversation about the two of them tends to go. I absolutely hold myself to that too, by the way. If Karius had been in goal against Leicester I’m quite sure I’d have been talking about how Okazaki was holding his arm and how he definitely touched the ball before Anthony Taylor gave the penalty. It’s something else I agree with from Paul’s article, how we all look more favourably on the players we like.

All I really want is for there to be a fair and honest conversation. Much as Paul makes the point that it’s not mutually exclusive to think Mignolet’s not shite but that Liverpool need a better goalkeeper, so too you’re allowed to say that the defence was poor but that whoever is between the sticks should do better. Regardless of who is in goal, I can’t remember the last time one of them properly dug the defence out when it mattered.

Mignolet is a very good shot stopper, as proven by his excellent penalty record. My issue is that too many people seem to use that as cover for his weaknesses. Being a goalkeeper at the level Liverpool need if they hope to compete for silverware is about so much more than stopping shots. You need to have good distribution, which he lacks, and you need to communicate, which he doesn’t. The latter point is especially relevant considering none of the defenders talk to each other, and the bloke behind them might as well be a mime.

LEICESTER, ENGLAND - Saturday, September 23, 2017: Liverpool's goalkeeper Simon Mignolet makes a save during the FA Premier League match between Leicester City and Liverpool at the King Power Stadium. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Paul’s right that the “anti-Mignolet brigade” gave the goalkeeper no credit when he tipped a Leicester shot over the bar at the weekend; I know, because I was one of them. The problem is that I feel like there needs to be some counter argument that he’s done something brilliant when really it’s the very least you expect from a top goalkeeper. This is what I’m talking about when I mention balanced conversation. Much as it’s unfair of me to criticise him when there’s not much he can do, it’s unfair of others to praise him when all he’s done is the least he should be doing.

I absolutely agree with Paul that there aren’t many better goalkeepers out there who are significantly better than Mignolet, but I’m not convinced that there are countless central defenders in the market who are both available and also a definite upgrade on Dejan Lovren. Much as we might watch other goalkeepers and think they’re much better than Mignolet, so too we all seem to think every other team has got defenders who are worlds better than the Croatian. The thing is, Lovren is a top four defender. I know because he’s the first-choice centre-back of a team that finished fourth last season.

I’ve managed to make it all the way through this piece without mentioning John Achterberg, which I think is a miracle in itself. I’m not going to labour the point as we don’t know what he does with them in training, but if you’ve got two goalkeepers who are widely considered to be not good enough by the majority of fans, it might be worth asking the question about his role in their development.

What’s the point of all this, then? It’s in the hope that we can all start talking a bit more fairly about both goalkeepers. I readily admit that Mignolet burnt my head out long ago, but I’m going to make a conscious effort to be less critical of him moving forward. If you’re someone that’s excused his every error, perhaps you might do well to ask yourself what you’d have been saying if it was Karius who had conceded a goal instead of the Belgian.

I think Mignolet is the goalkeeping equivalent of Lovren. They’re both better than some people think, but they’ve got more than a few mistakes in their locker. There aren’t as many alternatives out there as some supporters think, but Liverpool need to improve on them if they want to truly challenge for the top honours. They’re both top four players, but neither of them are good enough to propel a team on towards the title.

There might not be many goalkeepers out there as good as David de Gea, Thibaut Courtois or Manuel Neuer, but we sure as hell know that neither of Liverpool senior ‘keepers fit the bill.

It’s possible to think that the defence was poor and the goalkeeper could have done better. Those sentences aren’t, as Paul would say, mutually exclusive…

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