The odd wobble aside, Simon Mignolet's had a very good season in goal for Liverpool, one that probably deserves more than the nine measly clean sheets that have been kept. In terms of shot-stopping he's consistently been one of the league's best, but his decision-making and distribution are clearly a work in progress. If it's under his control, however, you could the sense that he's going to put in the necessary work to improve, and there doesn't seem to be any reason to believe that he can't or won't become one of the league's better all-around goalkeepers for years to come.
Something that hasn't been under his control--and that's had a direct impact on the number of clean sheets kept--has been the constant state of flux across Liverpool's back line. Martin Skrtel has been a mainstay since coming in for a start against Manchester United back in September, but each of Daniel Agger, Kolo Toure, and Mamadou Sakho have partnered the Slovakian centrally, and there's been a number of names to feature in fullback roles as well. Things have been decidedly unsettled defensively for most of the season, and it's been a weakness mostly compensated for by the firepower going forward.
But in their last two matches Liverpool have finally managed to look borderline competent defensively; last weekend a good bit of that was down to Manchester United's incompetence, but even against Southampton there was a sense that things were sturdier, even through the handful of shaky moments. With Agger finally healthy again and Skrtel on his most consistent run of form this season, it looks as though things might finally be settled for the run-in, which is a trend that Brendan Rodgers happily highlighted in his pre-match presser ahead of Liverpool's trip to Cardiff:
"Both Martin and Daniel have been absolutely excellent. They coped really well against Southampton - a team who score goals and pose a real threat. Our two centre- halves were also real pillars and strongholds of the team in the win at Old Trafford."As a team we worked tirelessly defensively to limit United to one shot on target - their lowest total at Old Trafford for five years. We will continue to look to play an aggressive, attacking game. We've scored more goals than anyone but it's equally important for us to defend."
There really is a sense for the first time this season that there's genuine quality and, perhaps most importantly, consistency at the back, both in terms of performances and personnel. That's probably because for the first time this season the performances and personnel are consistent, and they've been quality of late. With Mamadou Sakho coming back--and Lucas' return as the squad's only true defensive-minded midfielder--the options are only getting better, and that will hopefully foster the type of healthy competition we thought Liverpool were getting when the season started.