Saturday, 20 December 2014

Mignolet or Jones? The Goalkeeper debate

You know things are going seriously wrong when the first choice goalkeeper is dropped, particularly when the back-up is so poor. 

It was a thus a sign of Brendan Rodgers’ desperation when he brought in Australian keeper Brad Jones for Simon Mignolet to face the Reds’ arch-rivals Manchester United for one of the biggest games of the season at Old Trafford.

Following an immensely disappointing start to the season and on the back of a dull goalless draw at home to Sunderland a harrowing exit from the Champions League, calls for Rodgers’ firing were growing and the Northern Irishman seemed to be running out of ideas.

His subsequent decision to relegate Mignolet to the bench and promote Jones to the starting line-up seemed to have the intention of sending a message to his squad more than anything else; he was letting them know that nobody’s place in the team is safe. 

Mignolet seemingly licking his lips at the prospect of being on the bench
For that reason alone, it was a good move; Jones made some mistakes against Manchester United but I doubt the outcome would have been very different had Mignolet been in goal, and the players now know in no uncertain terms that they must perform to keep their place in the team.

Whether Jones will perform well enough to keep Mignolet out of the team for a significant amount of time is highly questionable. Although he did OK for most of the match against United, Jones should have done better for two of United’s three goals. He dived ridiculously early and in entirely the wrong direction for Rooney’s opener and then was hopelessly out of position when van Persie netted the hosts’ third. Moreover, he was responsible for Bournemouth’s goal on Wednesday evening, somehow letting Dan Gosling’s strike squirm underneath his body and into the net.

It wasn’t great goalkeeping, but Kopites have become accustomed to that this season. Jones may not be a huge improvement on Mignolet but, tellingly, he’s not a whole lot worse either. After initially impressing following his £9 million transfer from Sunderland, saving a last minute penalty to safeguard a win against Stoke on his competitive debut, Mignolet has slowly gone downhill ever since.

His distribution remains dire, he fails to exude a commanding presence in his penalty area and there is always the sneaking suspicion that he is going to make another costly error. Confidence in him among the players and the supporters is at an all-time low, and even his one redeeming quality, shot-stopping, has not been evident enough to compensate for his many other considerable deficiencies.  

Admittedly, it doesn’t help that he has such a shockingly bad defence in front of him, but at the same time his performances have hardly instilled confidence in his defence either. The relationship between goalkeepers and their defence is a symbiotic one; their performance and confidence levels feed on each other, and unfortunately the negative perpetual cycle of poor displays from the back five has been a major determinant of Liverpool’s unacceptably slow start to the season.

In the short term, it seems as if Jones will have to make a costly mistake for Mignolet to return to the first eleven. So far, he has made mistakes, but they haven’t substantially affected the outcome of matches; we wouldn’t have beaten United anyway and, although Bournemouth’s goal led to a brief resurgence, Liverpool ultimately weathered the storm and got the win their performance deserved.

"Hands up if you're an average at best goalkeeper"
To be in the position where all the goalkeeper has to do to keep his place in the team is not make costly mistakes is far from ideal, though, and is untenable in the long term. Liverpool need a quality goalkeeper who doesn’t just avoid making mistakes, but also instills confidence in the team with his commanding presence and wins points by producing top saves when it matters.

That’s why it is absolutely essential that the Reds enter the market for another goalkeeper in the January transfer window. In fact, another part of Rodgers’ reasoning behind his decision to drop Mignolet was probably sending a message to the owners that they need to get their cheque book out and sign a quality goalkeeper.

The two options most discussed in the media are Petr Cech and Asmir Begovic. The latter was a target at the same time that Liverpool were pursuing Mignolet and, in hindsight, the Reds made the wrong choice. Although a decent keeper who would represent an improvement on Mignolet and Jones, for me Begovic is too similar to Mignolet. The Merseysiders could not be certain that Begovic wouldn’t follow the same career trajectory as Mignolet since, like the 26-year old Belgian, the 27-year old Bosnian has never played for one of the game’s biggest clubs.

If Rodgers can convince Mourinho to sell Cech, who has been relegated to the substitutes’ bench at Stamford Bridge due the brilliant form of Thibaut Courtois, then he should sign the Czech goalkeeper. He’s a world class goalkeeper with a proven track record and is likely to be looking for a new challenge.

Cech makes a clearance against Liverpool last season
Admittedly, at 32 he’s a little old, but he could still potentially enjoy five seasons at Anfield because goalkeepers tend to enjoy longer careers. Petr Cech just seems to be the right fit for Liverpool and vice versa, so it would be fantastic to see him arrive at Anfield in January; as long as it’s not just for the League Cup semi-final!


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