After an excellent first few months at Anfield, Simon Mignolet’s performances in recent matches have become a cause for concern. Ben Twelves discusses the reasons behind the keeper’s slump in form.
Life at Liverpool couldn’t have got off to a better start for Simon Mignolet after signing in the summer. A heroic last minute penalty save on the opening day of the season from Stoke City’s Jon Walters, provided the Belgian with the perfect platform to build on but after a fantastic first few months to his Anfield career, Mignolet’s form has taken a turn for the worse in recent times.
The Belgian was bought in to replace Pepe Reina, whose form had been on a gradual decline, with the 25-year-old’s impressive shot stopping a huge factor in Brendan Rodgers deciding to part with £8 million to bring him to Merseyside. In his last season at Sunderland, Mignolet recorded some impressive figures including an overall shots to saves ratio of 73.4%, saving 66.4% of the shots faced inside the box and keeping out 88.9% of efforts faced from outside, according to Opta.
The Belgian international’s impressive shot stopping followed him to Anfield and was perfectly illustrated in opening games of the campaign against Stoke and Aston Villa, where Liverpool’s early season lethargic second half displays meant he was regularly called upon. It was also evident in the home defeat to Southampton, where only a series of magnificent saves kept the score-line at 0-1.
The assured performances continued from our new shot-stopper, and any doubting of his ability to replace Reina in the Liverpool goal were suddenly forgotten about after the Derby at Goodison Park in Novemeber, in which Mignolet produced arguably his finest performance in a Liverpool shirt so far.
Post-Merseyside Derby Form
Seven games in the traditionally busy and tough month of December provided a mixed bag of results for Rodgers’ side, seeing Liverpool pick up 12 points from a possible 21. It was also the month that saw the beginning of a decline in form of our Belgian keeper that has unfortunately carried over into the New Year.
— Dan Kennett (@DanKennett) January 16, 2014
Mistakes in away games at Man City and Chelsea contributed to Liverpool emerging from those fixtures with nothing to show and despite a steadier performance on New Year’s Day against Hull, the return matches with Stoke and Villa saw Mignolet still very much out of form.
In four of the last five Premier League games, it is fair to say that Mignolet has been at fault for a goal. He claimed an assist for Negredo’s goal at the Eithad and at Chelsea undoubtedly should have kept out a tame effort from Samuel Eto’o which turned out to be another match winner.
His failure to keep out a back pass like shot from Walters at the Britainnia Stadium rejuvenated the home side, but luckily ‘SaS’ did the business up the other end to kill the game off. On Saturday, Villa’s second goal came from a dreadful decision to come out for the cross, diverting the ball away from Glen Johnson, who had a free header clear, and resulting in the ball ending up in the Kop net via Christian Benteke.
Reasons Behind The Slump
Typically, Simon’s drop in form has coincided with the back four injury crisis which has seen Mamadou Sakho, Jose Enrique, Daniel Agger and Jon Flanagan all missing at the same time. Not only are some certain starters amongst them, the personnel that are playing in their absence fail to provide the same stability in front of the keeper.
Martin Skrtel and Kolo Toure at centre back is the most uncomfortable pairing we have and the uncertainty from them both on the ball and defensively, is proving to have a negative impact on Mignolet. Add to this Glen Johnson being desperately out of form and in need of replacing, as well as Aly Cissokho being simply not good enough, it is easy to see why Simon is currently himself.
Unfortunately for Simon, two of his errors have fallen in big games, resulting directly in winning goals and this will naturally lead to a drop in confidence. With self-belief in short supply, added to the already troublesome back four we have currently, the drop in performance levels of our keeper can’t come as a surprise.
While not a definitive factor behind his slump in form, a problem we do have is his footwork and it has contributed to the uncertainty we are seeing. Earlier in the season, this was less of an issue when Agger or Sakho were in the side, Enrique was fit and Johnson in form but with none of the defenders ahead remotely comfortable in possession, the ball often comes back to the Belgian very quickly after a series of nervy passes, resulting in a panic clearance up field. This indecisive play undoubtedly unsettles.
Returning To Form
The stats say that our goalkeeper is out of form and that cannot be denied but it would be unfair to say however, that it is all his own doing. Injuries and a lack of quality as outlined have unquestionably played their part in Mignolet’s small decline but the important thing now for Liverpool, is the return of first choice players and hopefully coinciding, the form of our keeper.
Heroes are made in the big games, when it is time to stand up and be counted. Mignolet did exactly that in the derby at Goodison and there would be no better time for the keeper to return to that impressive early season form than next Tuesday night at Anfield.