By Freddie Best
The football world generally agrees that a good goalkeeper is worth 10-15 points for a club per season. Reds fans have long recognised the need for this, and as such have been keen to provide Simon Mignolet with some direct competition for the No. 1 shirt. Names such as Matt Ryan, Timo Horn, Victor Valdes and Petr Cech have all been floated around, but it turned out to be Adam Bogdan who was chosen to deputise the Belgian, arriving on a free transfer from Bolton Wanderers.
Kopites are more than aware of the consequences of having a below-par second choice; Brad Jones conceded five goals in two must-win fixtures when he stepped in to replace Simon Mignolet. Luckily, Mignolet rediscovered his best form for the second half of the season, but the goalkeeping problem has been apparent since then.
If faced with another string of bad performances from our number one, few would place confidence in Bogdan to assume the first choice role on a long-term basis, meaning it is vitally important that Mignolet is at his best, particularly in the opening stages of the season.
Brendan Rodgers has today admitted that he has not come to a decision regarding his first choice centre-back pairing for this season, and I think it’s safe to expect at least some tinkering in that department throughout the 2015-16 campaign.
This can have numerous consequences; it will take time for the chosen pair to gel and produce an understanding between them. While this rapport is being developed, it is especially crucial for Mignolet to dominate his area and operate with the decisiveness that he lacked last term. This means dealing much better with deliveries into the box and making sure his punches are actually making contact with the ball.
Another thing he desperately needs to improve upon are his deliveries. It’s pretty demoralising to watch a goal-kick fail to clear the half way line, or worse still bobble aimlessly out of play. With the likes of Lallana, Markovic, Ibe, Firmino and Coutinho amongst our attacking options this season, it’s a certainty that we will favour fast-paced, high intensity movement in attack. Good deliveries from a goalkeeper can kick-start clinical and dynamic counter attacks, but booting the ball straight out of play is a sure fire way to kill off such an attack before it’s even begun.
Sloppy mistakes such as poor kicking gifting the opposition possession and flapping aimlessly at crosses in the area need to be cut out this season if we’re to have any hope for the Champions League. A large portion of responsibility for the performance of our defensive unit lies with Mignolet, we need him to be able to compensate for potentially inept showings at the back as new pairings find their feet and individuals like Dejan Lovren are playing, at least initially, with next to no confidence.
In the middle portion of last season, Mignolet showed us the top-rate performances of which he is capable; he’s always been an excellent shot stopper. Some may argue that others, such as Alberto Moreno and Lazar Markovic need to improve far more than he does from last season.
But the fact is, without a top-level goalkeeper challenging Mignolet for his place, and with the prospect of teething problems as a potential new-look defence takes shape, Mignolet needs to step up to the plate in our tricky opening fixtures. His performances in these matches, how he spares the blushes of the back four, or kick starts attacks for our talented group of forwards, will be indicative of how our season will pan out.
The burden of expectation and responsibility will weigh heavy on more than a few players in the Red’s squad, and Brendan Rodgers is most probably feeling the pressure too. But a huge portion of this undoubtedly rest on the shoulders of Simon Mignolet. Only time will tell if he is up for the challenge.