If Liverpool win the Premier League title this season, it will not be down to the work of Simon Mignolet, claims eccentric former goalkeeper Bruce Grobbelaar, who does not rate the Belgian shot-stopper.
Liverpool are—barring a giant goal swing in Chelsea's favour—10 points from sealing their first title in 24 years, thanks largely to the attacking contributions of the likes of Raheem Sterling, Steven Gerrard and Luis Suarez, who have helped the Reds net 93 times this season.
However, at the back Liverpool have conceded 42 times, 18 more than nearest rivals Chelsea. Grobbelaar points the finger at Mignolet for that statistic, per the Daily Mirror’s John Cross:
A good keeper should be easy on his feet, plays out from the back and commands himself in the penalty box. A keeper should never be beaten – as he has been – by a header from three yards out. The keeper coach has to work him harder and he can improve a lot, of course he can.
Another point is his positioning on free-kicks. His starting position is not right. The team and the defence is too far back for the keeper. They’re on top of him. He’s not commanding enough.
Another reason I look at Mignolet is the number of goals he’s conceded. Any team which concedes that number of goals should not be top of the league. You compare that to the number of goals Petr Cech has conceded at Chelsea and that tells you the difference. Any good team starts from the back.
Grobbelaar’s attack could barely come at a worse time. Liverpool are having to deal with the pressure of knowing they are now expected to win the title, so nerves will inevitably be on edge around the club.
Mignolet is a character who suffers from nerves. He admitted as much after a shaky debut for the club against Stoke, per the Daily Mirror’s Simon Mullock.
Big games have, on occasion, prompted mistakes from the big Belgian. He was at fault for Alvaro Negredo’s winner for Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium, and arguably he should have stopped Samuel Eto’o’s strike for Chelsea at Stamford Bridge.
Grobbelaar won six league titles at Liverpool, including the club’s last in 1990. His athleticism and personality inside the penalty area were unquestionable, and he remains one of the best 'keepers Liverpool have had.
Is Grobbelaar right to criticise Mignolet?
Mignolet is still in his first season, having moved from Sunderland, and is still adapting to life at a big club.
Mistakes have certainly been made, but so have crucial saves like the penalty he stopped against Stoke on the opening day, and his sharp reflex stop to deny Fernandinho during Liverpool’s recent win over City.
The £9 million capture is also somewhat exposed by Liverpool’s attacking line-up, which features the diminutive figures of Sterling and Philippe Coutinho behind Suarez and Daniel Sturridge.
Skipper Steven Gerrard recently hailed Sterling’s rise to prominence, claiming he does not go near him in training due to his strength on a football.
Sterling, though, says Gerrard is the key to Liverpool’s success, per the club’s official website. The skipper plays a self-sacrificing role in front of the defence and stands just four games away from getting his hands on the Premier League trophy:
When players like Stevie are telling you to go out there and try to create something and the defensive side of the team will worry about any mistakes, for someone like that to have belief in you and tell you to go out there and create, that gives you even more of a buzz.
He's telling you he believes in you personally and the team believes in you. It's a good all-round thing with everyone having belief in each other and working for each other. It's working as we all wanted it to work.
Liverpool head to Norwich on Sunday, knowing they can afford to draw one of their last four games and still win the league title, unless Chelsea close a nine-goal gap in the goal difference column.
They have not failed to score since Nov. 2, 2013, so Mignolet knows a clean sheet at Carrow Road will more than likely help the Reds take a step closer to their dream.
Gerrard, Sterling and Suarez will get most of the plaudits if Liverpool do clinch the title this term, but for Mignolet a winner’s medal would be a great way to silence doubters like Grobbelaar, who must surely know he is not helping his former side by criticising them at this vital time.