It’s too easy to criticise Simon Mignolet and it’s reductive to claim that he simply isn’t very good. He does a lot of things very well and he’s one of the better shot-stoppers in the Premier League.
Still, the decision to award him a new contract is a bit strange.
Mignolet’s biggest weakness is fairly well-known: he’s weakest in crossing situations or whenever he’s required to contest for the ball inside his six-yard box - and it’s not a coincidence that Liverpool as a team struggle in much the same way. Just this Sunday, Manchester United’s late winner at Anfield originated from penalty-box disorganisation and although Mignolet couldn’t have been expected to keep out Wayne Rooney’s fierce volley, Marouane Fellaini’s original header (which came back off the crossbar) seemed, albeit in a tenuous way, to be tied to his inability to be decisive in that kind of situation.
That’s not to say that the Belgian should have come off his line to claim that original cross, but just that it was the product of the underlying chaos with which his reign has always been associated - and which was typical of the sort of goal conceded by teams with unpredictable goalkeepers.
A lot of ‘keepers play the position in quite a formulaic way and they can be expected to do certain things depending on where the ball is. They will leave their line when a cross is dropping in a certain place and their defenders get used to that rhythm. It breeds certainty - an essential commodity in a defence. If a centre-back knows what his positional responsibility is and what his goalkeeper is likely to be doing behind him, his defending will almost certainly reach a higher standard than if he’s required to read and react to each situation as it happens.
So a theory: on the basis that every centre-back who plays in front of Simon Mignolet seems to struggle, it’s reasonable to suggest that they are all victims of the lack of continuity he offers. They make their own errors, of course, and Mignolet isn’t entirely responsible for every mistake which occurs, but he’s the component which causes the most difficulty - he’s the uneven foundation, if you like.
This isn’t a terminal fault, because many goalkeepers have learnt to be better decision-makers over the course of their career - and Simon Mignolet is still only 27 - but Liverpool will never be more secure defensively until that part of his game evolves. He must become more aerially reliable.
Is he going to come for the ball, is he not? Will he catch, will he punch? At the moment, there’s no way of telling. His game is rife with hesitation and he quite obviously suffers from a lack of confidence; ask him to react instantaneously to a situation and he’s capable of making brilliant saves, but put him into a situation which requires him to think and he will invariably struggle. That’s symptomatic of low self-belief. A nervous goalkeeper is a footballing Chernobyl: it’s an infectious problem which causes all manner of intangible issues.
Klopp has to cure this. Maybe the new contract is a way of emphasising the faith he has in his goalkeeper, but one way or another this has to be resolved. If Mignolet remains in his current state, no new centre-back is going to make Liverpool more resilient and any money spent on that area will in effect be wasted.