Starting the season with a penalty stop seems as though it should go a long way towards endearing a goalkeeper to a new set of fans, and for the most part for Simon Mignolet it did. Still, the Belgian shot stopper's at times shaky aerial command and that he isn't quite the distributor Pepe Reina was have, for some, made it hard not to cast about speculatively in search of Liverpool's next next goalkeeper.
There are few better shot stoppers in European football, though, and at 26 years of age Mignolet has plenty of time left in goalkeeper years to improve on his weaknesses. One only has to look to the likes of Martin Skrtel to see what a difference a year's experience in Brendan Rodgers' system can make, and as far as the manager is concerned, Mignolet is going to get a chance to show what he can do next season.
"I’ve been delighted with Simon since he has come in," Rodgers said when asked by the Echo about whether Liverpool's future between the sticks included Simon Mignolet. "I think he’s an outstanding goalkeeper who is only going to get better and better. He has come into a huge club and replaced a legendary figure at the club in Pepe Reina, [and] that was always going to take a bit of time."
Those still fondly remembering Reina's distribution and holding it up as to cast a shadow on Mignolet's suitability would do well to remember the number of seemingly stoppable shots Liverpool's last keeper let in and the unforced errors he was prone to. They would also do well to note that this season at Napoli, Reina has continued to be surrounded by question marks when it comes to his shot stopping.
Mignolet isn't a perfectly rounded goalkeeper, at least not yet. But if one places the ability to stop shots top of the list of prioritie, there is no one likely to be on the market who can match him. In the larger picture, he does the one thing that really matters. The rest, at least for a goalkeeper, is details—and he's almost certain to get better at those details in his second season at the club.
"Over the course of the season he has made a big contribution," added Rodgers. "I don’t forget the significance of some of the saves he has made. Simon hasn’t ever cost us a game but he has certainly gained us points. He’s an excellent goalkeeper. His form has been very good and he has consistently made really crucial saves for us."
Whatever Mignolet's weaknesses, it's been years since a Liverpool manager could say the goalkeeper hadn't cost his side points. Whatever his weaknesses, that seems a pretty solid foundation to build off of moving forward.