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We Have A Goalkeeper Debate, And That’s A Problem

Tired of blaming centerbacks? Step up right this way, Simon Mignolet, you’re the next contestant in Under the Bus...

Leicester City v Liverpool - Premier League Photo by Linnea Rheborg/Getty Images

The bitter taste of Sunday’s 4-1 defeat to Tottenham won’t go away any time soon, and certainly not before the next match against Huddersfield. While there is no shame in going down to London and losing to this extremely talented and well-drilled Spurs side, it was the manner in which the events unfolded that was the most disconcerting.

First let’s give credit where it is due, Spurs did well playing exactly to Liverpool’s weakness: forcing our defenders to react quickly in space.

But it wasn’t just about the backline, as Simon Mignolet once again laid bare his weaknesses as a goalkeeper, and Tottenham were poised to take full advantage. The Belgian keeper—who has gone a long way to reclaim his top spot since Loris Karius displaced him last season—was responsible for at least two of the goals, including the opener.

While Joel Matip and (especially) Dejan Lovren were rightfully being pilloried all over Liverpool Country (pour one out for Mama), some attention has turned to Mignolet.

The presumptive number 1 still has the same strengths and weaknesses as ever. He is a great instinctive shot stopper, and if we need someone to save a penalty, there’s no one I’d rather have. But other parts of his game are seriously lacking. His distribution is notoriously bad; if he manages to pick out a player in red, we’re likely in a change kit. His command of the area is poor, as seen when he failed to punch away a corner on the third goal. And he is often too slow off the line, as seen on Sunday’s opener.

This one display seems to have been enough to reopen the debate, at least among Liverpool supporters. And that’s a problem. There’s an adage in American football: if you have a quarterback controversy, you really don’t have a any good quarterbacks. The same can be said with this squad.

Mignolet has made some big saves over the last year, some of which won us a few points here and there. But he’s rarely had big overall performances. But the other options are both young and largely untested.

Loris Karius came in as the second best goalkeeper in the Bundesliga, but got off to a shaky start at Anfield. His distribution is far better than Mignolet’s, but his decision making and ability to read the fast pace of the Premier League is lacking. There’s also the non-trivial matter of his shot-stopping, which has not been impressive.

And finally there’s Danny Ward. He was one of the heroes Huddersfield Town last year in the Championship. He came up big on two separate occasions during penalty shootouts in the promotion playoffs, and impressed the year before in Scotland. But the Premier League is a big step up in competition. Even if Ward (or Karius, for that matter) do come good in England’s top flight, there will certainly be growing pains along the way.

I don’t have an answer for you, dear reader. I would hate to give up on either Karius or Ward in favor of, for instance, Jack Butland. Mignolet looked boss at Sunderland, just as Butland looks boss for Stoke City. It is a different animal altogether playing for a side as open as Liverpool’s. But just as it is hard to pull the trigger and choose youth over experience, it is equally hard to accept that we’ll continue to leak preventable goals because of our goalkeeper situation.

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