A wall of noise. The pub advertises music, but all I hear as I step through the door is noise. Dr. Seuss-o and the Flantastic Folkies. With a name like that, I should have known, but The Green Arrow serves the best cheap whiskey in town and I'm in need of a few value shots. Or maybe a few dozen.
My phone sounds, the ringtone a man making motorcycle noises. The drink will have to wait.
"What?" I ask, already dreading what I'll hear.
"AJ! It's Q!" it exclaims. "Have you got my messages to your mobile?"
"Yes, Ian," I say. "But I'm not feeling up to another round of Café Racers of Instagram posts, so I haven't given them a look yet."
"Oh, no, no, no - that's not it. Though, you really should look at tha-"
"Then what is it, Ian?"
"Ah, right! It's a case. Another case. Simon Mignolet. The details are all on your mobile. Speaking of, have you ever wanted to ride in a sideca-"
Ian's message spelt it out efficiently if a touch dramatic for my tastes. Put simply, there was a small albeit loud contingent of the Liverpool fanbase that seemed eager to hang the balance of the club's struggle squarely at the gloves of the goalkeeper. Waffles. An endearing nickname easily turned into an insult when delivered with the right sneer of derision.
But was it really him? The lost points. The drop in the table. Was it Waffles? I exchange a few quick texts with my Spanish source and sidle up to the bar, where Hank is in command of the Usuals as per.
"The regular?" Hank half-yells.
"Not today, H. Or at least not yet. I'm here on business. I'm looking for a mathematician, goes by the name of Joe Harry. Think he's got some dirt that could break this thing wide open for me. Louie Albert says I might find him here, but the name didn't sound real familiar."
Without breaking his focus from the Sisiphyian task of polishing the bar glasses, Hank nods to the man sitting alone at the far end.
Making my way over, I'm hit by how unexpected this Joe Harry was. Not the tall, bald and muscular thing. No, what caught me off-guard as I met the sad man with soft, gentle brown eyes was that he greeted me with what sounded like a slight Valencian tinge.
"Allo. I know why you're here, but I've got to tell you that I'm of no help, " he mumbled.
"Well, I wouldn't be so certain. You're Joe Harry, yeah? "
Spanish? Curious. I try to mute my surprise.
"Look, I've got a case with numbers that needs lookin' after and I hear you're the best. Help me, and I'll make it worth your while," I say, slipping a package onto the grimy stool next to him.
He opens the envelope and, for a minute, the torpor ironed onto his face gives way to a look of peace. He relents. We're in.
We've been staring at a chart for hours and I'm about ready to punch the wall. Circuitous conversations with superbrains aren't exactly my idea of the perfect evening, and the numbers have started to spin when I even glance in their direction.
Is it Mignolet's fault? If I'm looking at the shots conceded and saves per 90 on whoscored, then it's a clear yes. But it doesn't make sense. I've seen some of the locations of those saves as well as the big beats on a few of the goals.
But those numbers.
Joe, speaks up, seeming to read my mind: "Look, AJ, I don't know how else to tell you, but the answers you're looking for aren't here. We're talking about an issue with the premise..."
"For fucks sake, Harry, speak English!"
"Right... right. Ok. The reason you're having an issue with reconciling the data set to your case is because you've got the wrong parameters."
"Come again, Joey?"
"Your question is whether or not Waffles is to blame? Well, the only answers you've been looking at are ‘yes' or ‘no.' What if I told you that the answer was ‘kind of?'"
"I'd tell you you're giving me an ulcer, Joey."
"Here. Just take my notes. I'm pretty sure this is all you'll need," he says.
I take the packet of notes and look up at him. "Thanks, Joey," I say as I move towards the door. Before I step through, I pause as I hear the giggle of a grown man rise above the velvet voice of Martin Tyler.
Kind of. Paging though Joey's notes, I understood what he meant. Kind of. Mignolet was kind of at fault for this slow start. It's not an easy conclusion to stomach - folks in my line of work crave definition and this was the complete opposite of that.
As I get some distance I start to come around. The numbers do seem to exonerate the defense - Liverpool aren't conceding very many shots, and the ones they are he's conceding at too high a rate. That's an indictment of Mignolet.
But this is where Joey's packet comes in to muck things up - the zone for where those shots are being conceded is important. And of even more significance is that of the saves recorded, there are zero logged this season from inside the 6 yard area. None.
And in that foggy space, things get clear: Mignolet may not be saving as many shots as some of his counterparts, but it also appears that the major problems are happening where his centerbacks are supposed to be. Something smells when it comes to Migs in net, sure, but the stink's spread wider.
Something's rotten on the River Mersey, and it's bigger than just some spoiled waffles. I'm going to have to go and find it. This time, I can't close the case. Not yet...