How Has Simon Mignolet Fared as Liverpool's New First-Choice Goalkeeper?
This summer saw a confusing situation develop at Anfield, as Simon Mignolet was brought in from Sunderland for £9 million, and after a move to Barcelona didn’t materialize, Pepe Reina left for Napoli in a whirlwind late loan move.
Since then, Reina has gone on record stating that he is enjoying life at his new club, according to Sky Sports' Simone Bargellini, and Mignolet has quickly become a familiar fixture between the Anfield posts.
Now let’s take a more in-depth look at Mignolet and the various facets to his game and analyze his start to life as Liverpool’s new first-choice goalkeeper.
Enjoy, and let us know your thoughts in the comments below.
When Mignolet signed for Liverpool in July, many pundits may have questioned the signing given that Reina was still at the club, but undisputed across the board were the ex-Sunderland No. 1’s shot-stopping abilities.
At relegation-fighting Sunderland in the 2012/13 Premier League season, Mignolet was almost alone in performing week in, week out for the Black Cats and salvaging precious points for his team with his agility and brilliant reflexes—and so far he has carried this form into his career at Anfield.
If there were any doubts about his shot-stopping credentials—and there might have been a few given his shaky start to the game—he quickly dispelled them with a thrilling double save right at the death in the opening game of the season against Stoke City.
More than just saving two points (for the saves ensured that the Reds hung on to their 1-0 lead), Mignolet’s debut contribution allowed Liverpool to start the season in morale-boosting fashion, a run that has culminated in an encouraging position in the top three after 10 gameweeks.
This season, Mignolet has made the second-highest number of saves in the league outright—first place is newly promoted Cardiff City’s David Marshall—with 38 in 10 games. That means he's made just under four saves per game on average.
Considering that he has only let in 10 goals so far, we’d say the No. 22 hasn’t done too badly in the shot-stopping department. See the video above for more evidence.
As he got through his last couple of seasons in a Red shirt, Pepe Reina showed a decline in his shot-stopping, so in that regard, Simon Mignolet has certainly proved to be an upgrade. So how do they compare in an area that traditionally has been seen as Reina’s signature?
For all of his tendencies to punch and clear crosses, as seen in the above graphic from WhoScored.com, Reina actually didn’t have the statistics to support his instincts—certainly not in the 2012/13 season, and certainly not when compared to Mignolet.
Sure, the Belgian keeper exhibited signs of nerves when he failed to claim a cross in his debut match against Stoke, which led to Robert Huth hitting the crossbar from a mid-range chance, but since then, Mignolet has admirably stuck to his instincts and performed.
Liverpool have seemingly brought their vulnerability at set pieces on to this season, and Brendan Rodgers and Co. still have a lot of work to do to tighten up the holes in such situations, but in Mignolet, he possesses a keeper that has continued to improve on his aerial attributes.
Aerial ability is thus another area in which Mignolet has offered an upgrade on Reina this season.
Now onto Reina’s famous attribute: distribution, and there, Mignolet still has a long way to go.
Not because Mignolet’s distribution is below par—it was his long throw that got Luis Suarez on his way to score his second goal in the away win against Sunderland—it’s just that Reina’s qualities in long passes and throws were a staple to Rafael Benitez’s swashbuckling, counterattacking Liverpool side of 2007-2009, and indeed was a key player in making that system tick.
Now that Brendan Rodgers has favored a much more patient buildup—even though this current Reds team have developed a mean capability to counterattack at pace—Mignolet’s comfort on the ball has made him an outlet for passes and helping to recycle the ball at the back.
His kicking hasn’t hit the heights of the Reina era, and as Rodgers’ team continues to become more multidimensional, Mignolet will have to work on improving his distribution.
When Liverpool lost both Jamie Carragher and Pepe Reina in the summer, questions were asked about the dressing room atmosphere with two of their main men gone in the space of a couple of months.
Carragher had provided the experience, and Reina was famous for being a jester-like presence and a popular member of the dressing room—were the new recruits going to be able to make up for two major losses and survive in a quieter dressing room?
The camaraderie we’ve seen from the Liverpool team this season has suggested that the answer to that question has been an emphatic “no,” with the likes of Kolo Toure contributing his experience and jovial personality to the team. Mignolet has also chipped in with a confident presence in the dressing room—not quite the jester that Reina was, but still a strong presence and personality.
As for other mental aspects that a good goalkeeper needs to have, concentration is high on Mignolet’s list of strengths. Not that he’s had many quiet periods to sit through—West Bromwich Albion aside—given how many saves he’s had to make so far—but in games where Liverpool are expected to dominate possession, having a keeper who can pull off a save to salvage points is essential.
We’ve seen that in matches against Stoke, Aston Villa and Manchester United, and his teammates—especially now that the midfield weaknesses are becoming increasingly exposed—will continue to rely on him, at least until January rolls around and reinforcements can be made to shore up the midfield.
Conclusion: Pepe Reina Has Not Been Missed
All of this means that Simon Mignolet has unequivocally been an upgrade on Pepe Reina, especially the Reina of the previous two seasons, and that he has enjoyed a quite superb start to life at Anfield as Liverpool’s new first-choice goalkeeper.
Liverpool fans will be glad to know that Reina, a crowd favorite and Reds legend, is enjoying a new lease of life in Naples, but they will also rest assured that in Mignolet, they have a top young goalkeeper ready to make the No. 1 spot his own for the next decade.
If he continues to mature and improve, especially in his distribution, then Liverpool will have one of the best keepers in Europe in their ranks for years to come.