Should They Stay or Should They Go? Part 1

Should They Stay or Should They Go? Part 1
June 15, 2016 Daniel Rhodes

Goalkeepers and Defence

By Andrew Fanko (TTT Subscriber Arisesirrafa).

Hello TTT – it’s good to be back! I don’t get as much time these days to comment on the site, but I still dip in to read some of the articles, and the quality of writing and debate on here never ceases to amaze me. I hope I can contribute to that in some small way with the latest instalment of my annual look at how Liverpool should set about their transfer business in the summer. And of course, it’s your chance to read about the pros and cons of each player, agree or otherwise with the conclusion I arrive at, and then vote on whether the club should retain the services of the player in question.

As always, this first article will deal with goalkeepers and defenders, and then subsequent articles will look at midfield and attack. I’ve restricted it to players who have made more than five competitive ‘starts’ (see below for what I mean by ‘start’) for the first team in 2015/16, otherwise the articles may have become too lengthy. I’ll deal with loanees (i.e. our players who have been loaned out) and those who have started five times or fewer at the end of each article. Unusually, Liverpool had only one loan signing playing for them this season, and the short-lived Anfield career of Steven Caulker will go down as no more than a bizarre footnote in a season of dramatic highs and earth-shattering lows.

For the purposes of these articles, a start is deemed to be when a player has featured for 45 minutes or more, and a sub appearance is when a player has featured for less than 45 minutes. This means, for example, that a player who is subbed off in the first half is deemed to have made a sub appearance, while his replacement (assuming he plays the remaining minutes) is deemed to have started. If a change is made at half-time, both players are deemed to have started as both will have played 45 minutes. The points-per-game (PPG), win percentage (Win%) and clean sheet percentage (CS%) stats apply only to ‘starts’, and, for example, if a player is substituted when leading 2-0 (e.g. Lovren before the arrival of his hapless Slovakian half-time replacement at Southampton), their result is recorded as a 2-0 win; they can’t be held responsible for the carnage that ensues once they have left the pitch.

The personal goal difference per game (PGDPG) refers simply to the net number of goals scored by Liverpool per game when that player is on the pitch. For example, if a player played 38 games and played 90 minutes in each, with a 2-1 win in every game, his PGDPG would be 1. I’ve also included 2014/15 figures, where available and applicable, so you can compare performance over the last two seasons.

In the articles on the midfielders and attackers, I’ve also included minutes per assist (MPA), minutes per goal (MPG) and minutes per goal or assist (MPGA).

TEAM PPG: 1.60 / TEAM WIN%: 41.3% / TEAM GDPG: 0.43

Simon Mignolet / Age on 1 September 2016: 28 / Contract expires: 2021

2014/15 – Starts: 54 / Sub apps: 0 / PPG: 1.57 / Win%: 44.4% / PGDPG: 0.09 / CS%: 33.3%

2015/16 – Starts: 55 / Sub apps: 0 / PPG: 1.62 / Win%: 41.8% / PGDPG: 0.45 / CS%: 34.5%

Reasons to keep: Mignolet’s clean-sheet percentage has increased year on year in the three seasons he’s kept goal for us. And in each of the last two campaigns, he’s enjoyed a shut-out every three games on average. That’s not too shabby considering the state of our defence for most of that period.

Just off the top of my head, I can think of four genuinely world-class saves the Belgian has made this season. Keeping out Giroud at the Emirates in the goalless draw under Rodgers (sadly for him overshadowed by Cech’s remarkable scrambling save from Benteke); denying Naismith’s bullet header at Goodison in what would be Rodgers’ final game in charge; an instinctive flick of the left hand to tip Agüero’s effort round the post in the League Cup final; and brilliantly stretching to save from Ighalo’s powerful strike towards the end of the season at Anfield. He is undoubtedly a great shot-stopper and has saved/won us plenty of points in his Anfield career so far.

Mignolet’s handling of long-range shots is also worthy of praise (the pathetic attempt to deal with Adam Johnson’s – can we mention him? – free-kick at Anfield a very rare exception), particularly because it can be a weakness of other top goalkeepers. Reina went for a long period seemingly unable to hold on to them, while these days Petr Cech struggles to get down to them at all.

Other things going for the Belgian are that he is an experienced international for a top-class nation, and he seems to be a good professional.

Reasons to offload: When I last did these articles at the end of the nearly-title-winning season, I commented how Mignolet had been lucky that his aerial fallibility had not really cost us, warning that we may not be so fortunate in the years ahead. Sadly, this is how things have transpired. In the season just passed, our goalkeeper made more defensive errors than any others in the league (bar Ruddy and Boruc), and only Bournemouth’s keeper was directly to blame for more goals. In three years, despite several changes in approach (from seeming glued to his line to crazily coming for everything, and all shades in between), he simply hasn’t improved his ability to deal with high balls. That’s indefensible.

Perhaps most crucially, his two seasons of mainly indecisive goalkeeping have quite clearly affected the confidence of the back four and all his teammates. Mignolet has definitely become more vocal since he first arrived from Sunderland, but more often than not his castigating or encouragement of defenders comes after a mistake that he’s made, and it’s pretty clear that his words are falling on deaf ears.

The Belgian appears fairly level-headed and unflappable, but looks can be deceiving. On top of his general aerial weakness and indecision, a large portion of the goals he can be blamed for were conceded in front of the Kop, which is never slow to transmit its displeasure. I’m thinking in particular of that Johnson free-kick, Cissé’s goal for Newcastle and West Brom’s equaliser. And then of course, he could have done much better with Fernandinho’s shot in the pressure-cooker environment of a Cup final.

Distribution is another weakness. I do feel, to his credit, that he’s more comfortable with the ball at his feet than he once was (not that that’s saying much), but one of the most frustrating things about going to watch Liverpool is that you just know Mignolet, at least a couple of times a game, will fail to release the ball quickly when we have a great counter-attacking opportunity. Again, it’s a trait born out of indecision, which is probably the worst foible a goalkeeper can have.

Who was at fault for Liverpool's lack of creativity/goals vs Burnley?

  • No pace or width to stretch the deep-lying defence (20%, 32 Votes)
  • No dynamic possession in midfield to transition at speed upfield (20%, 32 Votes)
  • Players shooting at the wrong time with better options available (18%, 29 Votes)
  • A lack of movement ahead of the player with the ball (13%, 21 Votes)
  • Burnley crowding the penalty box so much it was impossible to find any space for a clear shot at goal (12%, 19 Votes)
  • The manager for ineffective overall tactics/in-game strategy (12%, 19 Votes)
  • Poor execution of shots (7%, 12 Votes)

Total Voters: 67

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Verdict: Keep. The elephant in the room, of course, is the arrival of Liverpool’s first summer signing: Loris Karius. The signals are mixed, what with Mignolet having signed a new long-term contract in January 2016, but I don’t imagine for one second that Karius has been bought to sit on the bench. He was voted second-best custodian in the Bundesliga, for goodness’ sake, which is effectively the best because Neuer is on another planet.

So if we assume that Karius will start between the sticks when the Premier League season gets under way, the question becomes: are we happy to keep Mignolet as a back-up goalkeeper? To which my answer is ‘yes’. I guess it might be preferable not to spend quite so much in wages on a guy who will hopefully play only a handful of times a season, but it would mean certain competition for Karius, and that is likely to keep the German on his toes.

The Belgian has had spells during his Liverpool career where he’s looked the part, and perhaps if he’s taken out of the firing line most weeks it would suit him to play the occasional game. At his age and with his experience, of course, he shouldn’t be happy to just sit on the bench most weeks. But I do wonder….

Nathaniel Clyne / Age on 1 September 2016: 25 / Contract expires: 2020

Johnson in 2014/15: Starts: 22 / Sub apps: 6 / PPG: 1.41 / Win%: 36.4% / PGDPG: -0.13 / Goals: 1 / Assists: 1

2015/16: Starts: 52 / Sub apps: 0 / PPG: 1.58 / Win%: 40.4% / PGDPG: 0.35 / Goals: 2 / Assists: 3

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