Liverpool Must Upgrade On Simon Mignolet In Order To Break The Top-Four

The timing could hardly have been worse: just hours after Liverpool had confirmed that Simon Mignolet signed a lucrative, new five-year contract at Anfield, the Belgian goalkeeper played a direct played a direct role in helping Arsenal to twice recover from a goal down in order to draw 3-3 on Merseyside in the Premier League yesterday evening.

Mignolet was twice easily beaten at his near post as Aaron Ramsey and Olivier Giroud struck either side of a Roberto Firmino brace in order to level the game at 2-2 at half-time, and although any top-level goalkeeper can be forgiven the occasional off-day, the reality is that the 27-year-old’s performance against Arsenal was typical of the frailty which has characterized his entire Liverpool career.

Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp defended Mignolet in the post-match press-conference. The German stated that, although his keeper could be expected to deny Giroud Arsenal’s second equalizer, poor defence was the root-cause of all three goals, leaving Mignolet over-exposed.

“On the second goal, on a perfect day he can make a save but there were a lot of mistakes before”, Klopp said. “We have to defend this better.”

But while there can be little doubt that the porousness of Liverpool’s back-four has not helped Mignolet this season (Liverpool have conceded more goals [27] than any other side in the top-half of the table), the stats suggest that the keeper is still performing below the level of his Premier League counterparts.

Tottenham’s Hugo Lloris, for instance, has faced the same number of shots-on-goal in the same number of Premier League starts as Mignolet this season (65), but where the French international has conceded 16 goals and registered 50 saves in 20 starts, Mignolet has conceded 24 times and made only 42 saves. West Ham’s Spanish goalkeeper Adrian, meanwhile, has conceded only 20 times from 81 shots-on-goal (making 63 saves) and Watford’s Heurelho Gomes has made 60 saves from 82 shots-on-goal, conceding one goal fewer than Mignolet.

Perhaps most damningly in the context of yesterday evening result, Arsenal’s Petr Cech has saved 68 of the 86 shots that he has faced this season, conceding 21 goals, having played one game more than Mignolet. Arsenal boss, Arsene Wenger, was widely criticized for being the only manager in any of Europe’s five major leagues who failed to sign an outfield player last summer, but his £10 million acquisition of Cech from Chelsea has played a crucial role in propelling the North London club to the top of the Premier League after 21 matchdays.

Arsenal possess the joint-third tightest defense in the division after last night’s result (they were in outright second on Tuesday) and Cech is thus a powerful illustration of the impact that a top-class goalkeeper can have at the highest-level of the sport. The contrast between Cech and Mignolet will not have been lost on Klopp, and it is extremely difficult to believe that the German’s public backing of his keeper was borne out of anything other than necessity.

After all, back-up goalkeeper, Adam Bogdan (bizarrely signed from Bolton last summer), has already proven himself far below the level required of a Liverpool player in recent weeks (see his performances against Watford and Exeter City), and Klopp is too shrewd a political operator to criticize Mignolet with only two weeks of an inflated January transfer market remaining, hours after the club had awarded the player a fat new contract.

Klopp will stand by Mignolet until the summer, and the Belgian is clearly of a level sufficient to retain a place in the Liverpool squad in the longer-term, but surely not as the club’s first-choice goalkeeper. Cech, Joe Hart, Lloris, David de Gea and Thibaut Courtois are all superior players to Mignolet, keeping goal for Liverpool’s direct rivals and Klopp will know better than anyone the need to recruit a player at that level in the summer.

Do not be surprised to see Liverpool tap into the Bundesliga’s deep seam of top-class goalkeeping talent in search of Mignolet’s replacement in the next six-months.

[Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images]