Liverpool are enjoying themselves at the moment.
The fun factor is back at Anfield after a run of six wins in seven games, culminating in that 6-1 annihilation of Southampton as they cruised into the League Cup semi-final.
Jurgen Klopp has instilled a palpable confidence within his squad since he succeeded Brendan Rodgers as manager back in October, with the likes of Lucas Leiva and Alberto Moreno playing like men possessed.
Unfortunately there is one glaring weakness that may prove the Reds’ Achilles heel in their bid to maximise their lofty season ambitions under Klopp’s stewardship.
Simon Mignolet initially endeared himself dramatically to Liverpool fans on his club debut back in 2013, saving a last-minute penalty in a 1-0 home win against Stoke.
But since then his Reds career has been littered with costly errors, often undermining good work in front of him or being part of a collective defensive incompetence.
Klopp offered his backing to the Belgian keeper this week after he gifted Bordeaux a goal via an indirect free-kick when he inexplicably held onto the ball illegally for 22 seconds in a Europa League tie at Anfield.
“Simon Mignolet is one of the smartest keepers I’ve had. He’s still young enough to develop. He is very open,” expressed the German.
Whether those comments were tongue-in-cheek, considering Klopp’s hilarious outburst at Mignolet’s expense to a journalist in his post-match press conference, remains to be seen as there was certainly nothing ‘smart’ about it.
Mignolet had the audacity to protest his innocence but, in truth, his inexcusable mistake nearly cost a slightly off-colour Liverpool side the game and subsequently progress in the competition.
His shot stopping is his saving grace but when the hallmarks of a modern day ‘keeper transcend far beyond the ability to make saves it is his shortcomings in other departments that expose his frailty.
With the ball in the air or at his feet he injects a sense of uneasiness into both his players and the fans. We have seen a couple of times this season already, such as in home games against Norwich and Crystal Palace, his inability to deal with crosses effectively which has ultimately cost Liverpool four points. They are four points that would put them level with Arsenal in fourth.
The Premier League boasts some of the best goalkeepers in the world. Here is how the top half of the table currently looks – plus champions Chelsea – along with their respective number ones.
Reds fans would probably offload Mignolet for any of the names on that list, aside from perhaps an ageing Tim Howard at Everton. Chelsea also have the capable Asmir Begovic in reserve if, as has been the case this season, Courtois is injured. Add Stoke’s Jack Butland and that’s arguably 11 better alternatives than Mignolet in the Premier League alone.
No ‘keeper has kept more league clean sheets than the Belgian in 2015 (14) but that is a highly deceiving statistic. The Reds have allowed their opponents the fewest shots on target (42) from any top tier side so far this season, so Mignolet’s accolade is mainly testament to an emerging defensive surety following the shambles that ensued at times under Rodgers.
If fresh reports this week are true. then the club are set to offer Mignolet a bumper new contract. On one hand, the deal could have a galvanising effect on the 27-year-old similar to the one Klopp has precipitated upon so many of his new charges since his arrival. On the other, rewarding him after a string of unconvincing displays could harbour a sense of accomplishment when Mignolet has a lot of work to do.
There’s no denying there are better alternatives out there. Several Bundesliga goalkeepers are viable options for Klopp to mull over in January, namely Timo Horn at Cologne. The German’s reticence to do so may be his downfall.
If Liverpool truly want to compete both domestically and in Europe they must look to upgrade. Joe Hart, Thibaut Courtois, Petr Cech, David De Gea and Hugo Lloris – the first choices of the club’s closest rivals – are in a completely different league to the Belgian.
The harsh truth is Mignolet is a liability and Liverpool are persisting with him at their peril. It would be a shame if they fell short this season because of his ineptitude.