Simon Mignolet has often been considered a confusing signing. Considering Brendan Rodgers has often claimed to think of his goalkeepers as an eleventh outfield player, as good with their feet as they are with their hands. In his debut season, Mignolet performance suggested he was not one of those players.
Rather than buy a new keeper, Rodgers sought to change that this season. He tasked Mignolet with improving some key elements of his playing style; his kicking and distribution needed to improve, so that he’d play it out from the back more often instead of hoofing the ball every chance he got. He also demanded that Mignolet command his area with more confidence; in his first year, Mignolet would too often stay rooted to his goal line, never coming for crosses and letting his defenders deal with everything.
So Mignolet worked on improving these aspects of his play, but this season it only managed to make him worse. While his passing from the back wasn’t outright terrible, he often took too long and gave opponents ample time to close him down and his his general kicking remained inconsistent. However, it was his efforts to be more commanding that proved to be his downfall. Attempts to come off his line to deal with the
ball often became huge errors in judgement, leading him to either miss the ball and leave him unable to defend his own goal, or punching it to the nearest opposition player.
He made so many huge errors that it led to a catastrophic loss in confidence. He became a shadow of the player he once was and a complete liability in goal. I’m not certain his confidence was helped by Rodgers’ decision to bench him for roughly a month, as his return against Burnley showed him at his lowest ebb (I’ve never seen a goalkeeper fail to prevent a corner so spectacularly), despite actually managing to keep a clean sheet.
But then with the formation change, Mignolet’s form improved with the rest of the team. It has to be mentioned that Mignolet’s early run of bad form coincided with some genuinely awful defending from his back four. Our defenders had no leaders and thus had no idea what they were supposed to be doing; they often made individual errors that left Mignolet exposed in less than favourable odds. But the switch to a back 3 improved the defence and slowly, Mignolet’s confidence and performance followed.
Say it quietly, but Mignolet actually kept the same amount of clean sheets as Chelsea’s Thibaut Courtois, though he played 3 more games. By the end of the season, he seemed a lot more comfortable in commanding his area and he made a number of spectacular saves that ensured we came away with 3 points.
His distribution still leaves a bit to be desired and the Stoke game showed he’s still capable of making errors, but it certainly seems as though Mignolet has improved elements of his game this season and seemed to perform a lot better than the rest of his team.
There is only one question remaining; is it enough to justify his place at Liverpool Football Club? While Rodgers doesn’t seem to want to replace Mignolet yet, he is set on signing a better back up keeper than Brad Jones. If the new back up proves capable, next year could be the biggest test of Mignolet’s Liverpool career so far.