Should They Stay Or Should They Go? Goalkeepers and Defence
So, it’s that time of the year again. The season has come to an end, and I’m buggered if I can make any sense of it. Far wiser people than me are dissecting the big issues and examining our season in detail. We no longer have Comolli or Dalglish, but the players they signed and/or managed remain. This Should They Stay Or Should They Go series of articles is really designed to get some debate going among you good people at TTT as to which members of the playing squad we should be locking away and shielding from unwelcome predators, and which ones we should be looking to usher out of the Shankly Gates.
I’d like to examine each player in detail to see whether they merit being part of the first-team squad when our 2012/13 season begins. I’ve restricted it to players that have made at least five competitive appearances for the first team in 2011/12 (with the understandable exception of goalkeepers), otherwise the articles may have become too lengthy. I’ll deal with loanees and those who have featured less than five times at the end of each article. We’ll start with goalkeepers and defenders, and then subsequent articles will look at midfield and attack.
I’m sure you’ll be delighted to know that this year’s trilogy comes complete with stats and graphs, too. For the purposes of these articles, a start is deemed to be when a player has featured for more than 45 minutes (i.e. Brad Jones vs Blackburn counts as a start) and a sub appearance is when a player has featured for less than 45 minutes (i.e. Doni in that same Blackburn game counts as a sub appearance). The points-per-game (PPG) and win-percentage (Win%) stats apply only to starts. The personal goal difference (PGD) refers simply to the net number of goals scored by Liverpool when that player is on the pitch. Thanks to Dan Kennett for providing me with the contract information.
Pepe Reina / Age on 1 August 2012: 29 / Contract expires: 2016
Starts: 46 / Sub appearances: 0 / PPG: 1.67 / Win%: 47.8% / PGD: 25
Reasons to keep: Reina remains of the best goalkeepers in the world. He’s capable of breathtaking saves, and I’ve lost count of the number of times over the years he has stopped a probable goal by being absolutely lightning quick off his line. Marry that to a solid ability in the air (something that has definitely improved since he arrived from Villareal in 2005) and the best distribution of any ‘keeper in the league, and he really does have the whole package. The Spaniard is yet to turn 30, too, so he should have 5-10 years left at the very top level.
It’s incredible to think Reina has been in our nets for seven years now. Only Gerrard and Carragher have been at the club longer, and only they identify with the club more. You only have to listen to the Spaniard to know how much he loves the club and the city. Reina captains the team in the absence of the two Scousers and is an absolutely fantastic guy to have around the place. Just look at his reaction on the bench when Brad Jones saved Yakubu’s penalty at Blackburn: genuine delight.
Reasons to offload: “Whisper it quietly, but Reina’s form has been pretty poor this season by his own exceptional standards.”
That’s how I started this little section last year, and it’s pretty much exactly how I was going to start it this year. So can we say that two consecutive years of below-par performances is indicative of a serious decline, or is it simply a mini-slump in what will be an outstanding two-decade career?
One thing that has appeared to change for the worse this season is Reina’s shot-stopping. On several occasions he has barely even dived or been rooted to the spot, and his efforts to keep out Ramires’ shot in the FA Cup Final summed up a poor campaign. I used to feel confident if an opposing striker was bearing down on Pepe in a one-on-one situation; not so much these days. If that’s a sign that his heart isn’t quite in it any more, that he can’t see himself winning big prizes with Liverpool while he’s at the peak of his powers, then the time has come for a beautiful relationship to end.
Looking at it coldly, many of Europe’s top sides would love to have Reina and he would still command a transfer fee in the region of £20m-25m. If he stays now, we’ll never get that much for him in the future.
Verdict: Keep. Yes, his form has dipped. Yes, he’s our second-most saleable asset (behind Suárez, of course). Yes, we could reinvest the money we get for him to improve other areas of the pitch where we have been so sorely lacking this season.
I’m convinced, however, that selling Reina would be taking two steps back to take one step forward. A good goalkeeper is arguably the hardest squad member to replace, especially when you can’t offer Champions League football to the elite.
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