Jamie Vardy had absolutely smashed the ball through the middle, but a golden-haired Belgian was equal to it. Diving, to his right, he pushed it away, fists pumped and a sigh of relief spreading across his face as he shouted at his defense to organize themselves. Now rewind back 3 minutes, Jaime Vardy had haired on to another through ball, splitting the Liverpool defense in half, with Simon Mignolet the last man standing between him and goal. He nudged it beyond the keeper before being taken out for a clear penalty. The Belgian had an absolute shocker. He was so flustered by the mere presence of Vardy that he completely miskicked the ball, sending the English forward flying instead.
Two incidents in a matter of minutes perfectly describe the enigma that is Simon Mignolet. A decent shot stopper with an incredible penalty saving record, he can go from being a fortress between the sticks to an exasperation, as the kop has been experiencing over the years. There is an eerie resemblance between the Merseyside club’s performance and that of their number-one shot-stopper. Brilliant and exhilarating at their best, falling apart like a pack of cards at their worst. Dejan Lovren might bear the brunt for the drubbing at the hands of Tottenham on Sunday, but Mignolet wasn’t far behind. He was directly responsible for Kane’s third as well, having played a crucial part in the Spur’s forwards opener.
Manchester City, Crystal Palace, Stoke City, Aston Villa, Ludogorets; the teams that pop up in our mind if we travel back in time. The common point of reference? “Simon Mignolet’s howler”. A striking lack of command in the 6-yard box, particularly on crosses, his propensity to produce crucial errors are countless. But here lies the paradox, is Simon Mignolet a really bad goalkeeper, as he is portrayed? Let’s consider the Manchester City game in the Capital One cup final. Manchester City ran out worthy winners, but they were indebted to the Belgian for the only goal they scored when Mignolet let the ball slide under him. Ironically, the same man was instrumental in taking Liverpool to extra time, having foiled Sergio Agüero’s effort impressively in the first half, and also denying Fernando and Yaya Touré from close range in the final moments of normal time. He pulled off one better in extra time, a crucial reflex save from Agüero, after the Argentina international had been slipped through on goal and looked destined to score. There lies the agonizing performance curve of a brilliant shot-stopper, who sometimes is boiled down to resembling a cat chasing his tails. For every spectacular save, there seems to be a howler down the line. 4 years have passed since he arrived on a fateful summer of 2013 from Sunderland, a promising young goalkeeper deemed to be the Red’s future for the decade to come. These days, it seems like he has been reduced to a figure of disillusionment for both his manager, Jurgen Klopp as well as the Kop. There seems to be a palpable frustration underlying, which isn’t far from reaching its boiling point.
Over the years, the Premier League has experienced both the highs and lows of the Belgian goalkeeper in microcosm. Mignolet is far from a bad goalkeeper, but he has not reached the desired level required to bring Glory days back to Merseyside. He hasn’t been helped by a porous defense in front of him and has often looked exposed since he got here. A midfield that tends to leave large, open spaces for oppositions to exploit along with a malfunctioning defense that plays a high-line, it doesn’t exactly sound like the perfect setup to have if you look to win silverware on a consistent basis.
Jurgen Klopp rightly bought Loris Karius at the start of last season to provide competition to the Belgian, but even the German has flattered to deceive. At one time, he had even emerged as a favorite under Klopp, despite his early struggles, replacing the often derided Mignolet at the start of the season. The Liverpool manager seemed to back his own judgement of the young keeper he had brought to Anfield from his old club Mainz. But following some lackluster performances he was eventually replaced again by the Belgian, who went on to provide some solid displays, making the number one spot his own till the end of the season. Let’s be brutally honest here, Karius is a promising prospect but needs to hone his skills better if he ever wants to make the number one spot at Anfield his very own. At this time, he isn’t even at par with Mignolet and shares almost the same deficiencies as his Belgian counterpart.
These days, if you have an off-day like Mignolet has over the years, you will get absolutely buried by not only the pundits but also by the vast population of the keyboard warriors in social media. He will continue making the unkindly headlines along with the likes of Lovren. However, Liverpool’s goalkeeping conundrum is a collective phenomenon, just like its defensive shortcomings. They share an unfortunate case of shared strength as well as weakness.
Mignolet may be error prone, but he isn’t the sole reason behind Liverpool’s woes. He is a decent goalkeeper, who just isn’t world-class, but neither are Liverpool barring a certain Philippe Coutinho. It’s time Jürgen Klopp identified the real problem. For his team to shine, he requires more world class players to accompany the Little magician from Brazil. And for too long has Liverpool dwindled with mediocre players for a club of their stature. It’s time to make some big decisions next summer.