Simon Mignolet Wins Premier League Opener for Liverpool as Goalkeepers Impress
Liverpool got their 2013-14 Premier League campaign off to a positive start on Saturday with a first-half strike from Daniel Sturridge, ultimately handing the Reds a 1-0 victory over visitors Stoke.
It could have been a very different result, though, had it not been for a late double save from new goalkeeper Simon Mignolet to deny Jonathan Walters from a penalty spot, as well as Kenwyne Jones from the rebound.
However, it was not Mignolet who claimed the official Man of the Match award, with that honour instead going to Stoke City goalkeeper Asmir Begovic, who was undoubtedly the best performer on the day.
For all Begovic's fine saves, though, it is clear which player will capture the post-match headlines in tomorrow's papers.
When Liverpool completed the signing of Mignolet in June, per the LFC official site, it was somewhat of a gamble on the part of manager Brendan Rodgers, with long-term goalkeeper Pepe Reina having been discarded in the process.
Given the context of his arrival, then, it is understandable that the Belgian's every move was analysed in the early moments of his debut, with some shaky moments only adding to the intense spotlight.
It was clear that Mignolet was nervous and, as a consequence, struggled terribly in aerial battles against Stoke's towering forward in Peter Crouch. Given the spotlight he was under, every failed attempt to claim a crossed ball was magnified.
It will be to his great relief, then, that his late heroics diverted attention away from his early shortcomings. The double save to deny Walters and Jones was brilliant, showing wonderful reactions and bravery to make two stops in swift succession.
In the process, he secured a valuable three points for his side and left the pitch to the noise of the Kop cheering his name. He will be both a relieved and happy man.
Despite his late impact, though, Mignolet will know he must improve if he is to meet Liverpool's expectations this season. Those who watched him regularly at Sunderland will be confident in his ability to do so, but the weight of expectation at Liverpool can be an inhibiting factor.
The self-belief that he gained from his match-winning contribution, though, should go a long way to help him overcome his initial nerves.
For Begovic, moving forward it will be a simple case of building on a brilliant start to the new campaign. Many had considered the Bosnian a candidate for a big move this summer, but for now he will remain at the Britannia Stadium.
The Stoke 'keeper made 10 saves over the 90 minutes, a couple of which left Liverpool's forwards shaking their heads at the sharpness of his reactions.
Jordan Henderson, who had a fine afternoon in midfield, was frustrated on more than one occasion, with a fingertip save onto the post in the second half the highlight of Begovic's exceptional afternoon.
Manager Mark Hughes knows his goalkeeper must strengthen up in the coming weeks if he is to meet the club's ambitions this campaign. Keeping Begovic for another year, though, could well be the biggest positive of Stoke's summer activity.
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