The Improvement of Simon Mignolet

Player Analysis
Distance Covered

Distance Covered

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As recently as five months ago, I was as anti-Mignolet as a person possibly could be. As a lifelong Liverpool fan, I’ve witnessed my beloved team drop points, make mistakes and concede detrimental goals too often with Simon Mignolet between the sticks. It had reached a point of no return for me, after an accumulation of continuous errors and ultimately poor goalkeeping over a number of seasons had resulted in my confidence in the man being completely non-existent. I recall saying as last season came to an end, that if Klopp starts next season with Mignolet as his first-choice goalkeeper I’d be amazed. To my relief, Liverpool moved in the summer to find a new no.1 and signed Loris Karius from the Bundesliga to remove Mignolet from his 4-year spell as Liverpool’s primary goalkeeper.

However, much to my surprise, Karius’ start at Liverpool was inconsistent and the supposed self-assured German struggled to adapt to life in the Premier League. By December, Karius was being targeted in every single match as a weak point, and not just by the opposition, but also by the unforgiving English media. Klopp had no choice but to drop Karius for Liverpool’s crucial away trip to Middlesbrough, and even though Karius had been pretty abysmal, I still dreaded the prospect of Mignolet once again reclaiming a spot in Liverpool’s XI.

Since the change on December 14th, there’s been virtually no looking back, and Mignolet has performed to such a level that Karius hasn’t had a single look in regarding getting back into Liverpool’s line-up. Mignolet has been self-assured, composed, commanding and consistent, with just the one notable blemish since December; David Luiz’ free-kick at Anfield. It’s definitely safe to say that Mignolet has won his side more points this season than he’s lost; a statement I haven’t been able to make about a Liverpool goalkeeper since Pepe Reina in 2010.

Simon Mignolet now appears newly transformed as a goalkeeper, as the simple aspects that he once struggled with now seem second nature to him, and he’s improved virtually every facet of his game. When Klopp arrived, no player in the whole league had made more errors leading to a goal in the previous three seasons than Mignolet, as he was making errors roughly every 500 minutes. Compare that to this season, he averages one roughly every 2400 minutes; over 4x better. This season, he’s also won 93% of his aerial duels in comparison to an average of 77% over his previous three seasons, signalling that he’s now braver, confident and more proficient in the air.

To demonstrate Mignolet’s commendable progress, I’ve identified three key areas in which he’s recognisably improved to contribute effectively to Liverpool’s endeavours this season.

Season-Defining Saves

17th August 2013; Simon Mignolet saves a last-minute penalty in the first game of the Premier League season on his debut to seal a 1-0 win over Stoke. Unfortunately though, this was not a sign of things to come, it was quite the opposite. The defining point-winning save that Mignolet made on his debut has been uncommon and rare, and too often he’s missed the chance to save Liverpool’s day by making that last gasp stop to secure the points for his team. On countless occasions over the years since Mignolet’s arrival, he’s failed to step up when needed like the real top goalkeepers do; Demba Ba at Anfield after Gerrard’s infamous slip and Phil Jagielka from 30 yards in the last moments of the Merseyside Derby come to mind.

Recently though, Mignolet is proving to be decisive and valuable to Liverpool in their quest for a place in next season’s Champions League. He’s claiming crosses under pressure, refraining from making unnecessary mistakes, but most of all he’s making season-defining saves. These are demonstrated in the video below, and their importance isn’t necessarily due to the opponent, but the scenario in which each save is made. An example is the recent away trip to Stoke, as Mignolet firstly makes a close-range save on the line to deny Stoke taking a 2-0 lead; Liverpool then score two goals, and he denies another sitter from Berahino to stop Stoke levelling late on and Liverpool somehow escape with 3 points.

If you focus on the context of Mignolet’s recent saves and how important they’ve been in the grand scheme of things; Mignolet deserves a huge amount of credit should Liverpool reach their goal of achieving a finish in this season’s top four.

Aerial Proficiency

For me, Mignolet’s most notable improvement has been in the air, as despite his 6′ 4″ frame, I’ve become accustomed to witnessing him get bullied aerially by aggressive sides. A previously common tactic for an opponent facing Liverpool would be to plant high crosses in the 18-yard area in the hope that Mignolet would either be reluctant to claim them, or that he’d try and fail to do so.

However, since December against Middlesborough, Mignolet has visibly had a completely different approach. He’s now much more proactive aerially rather than relying on his defenders to deal with high balls for him. He’s now proficient when catching crosses, and does so with ease rather than preferring to punch them due to self-doubt. This season, Mignolet’s success rate when punching or claiming crosses is a reputable 98%, in comparison to 89% over the past three seasons; a notable improvement.

Legendary Liverpool goalkeeper, Bruce Grobbelaar, was quoted three years ago as saying:

“He doesn’t command his area; I’ve likened Mignolet to worse than Dracula because at least Dracula comes out of his coffin now and then. He seems to stay on his line and that’s it. That whole area, not just the six-yard area, is the goalkeeper’s.”

Granted, it’s a bold quote, but most Liverpool fans would be in agreement regarding Mignolet’s early career at Anfield. Too often he’s played the part of a statue safeguarding his line rather than practically managing the 18-yard box to ease the pressure on his defenders. Now though, it appears Mignolet has learnt and incorporated the necessary traits to be a proactive goalkeeper whom commands his area; bravery, composure, positivity, courage, decision-making. Below, is a brief analysis compilation on how Mignolet has developed to demonstrate these traits in an aerial capacity to Liverpool’s benefit.


The whole concept of a sweeper-keeper has grown since Mignolet’s arrival at Anfield in 2013, and the role now receives an excessive amount of publicity thanks largely to the arrival of Pep Guardiola, Mauricio Pochettino and Jurgen Klopp in England. These forward-thinking coaches require their keepers to play aggressively and act as sweepers behind high defensive lines, and Mignolet’s nature initially conflicted with this. Too many times over the years, Mignolet has been glued to his line with a reluctance to play proactively and get involved with his team’s build-up play. Mignolet has been evidently hindered by his poor technical ability, and has historically looked to play a simpler game in the form of a traditional shot-stopper rather than a practical sweeper-keeper.

Recently though, Mignolet’s improvement in the role of sweeper-keeper has been commendable but can often go under the radar. I must point out that although these contributions seem fairly basic, they’re aspects of the game that Mignolet struggled with and often chose not to do through fear of making a mistake. As demonstrated below, Mignolet now plays a braver game and appears much more like a player that represents Klopp’s style. Mignolet now commands his whole area instead of his 6-yard box, he’s quicker off his line to sweep up and he’s more comfortable with the ball at his feet; often taking one or two touches before passing to a teammate, rather than five or six.


To summarise, Simon Mignolet now appears to be a completely different goalkeeper based on the past few months in comparison to the player that we’ve become accustomed to over the past three seasons. His mistakes, errors, fear and indecisive nature appear to be in the past, and Liverpool have certainly benefitted from the transformation.

Mignolet still has some way to go to convince myself and Liverpool’s fan base entirely, but his improvement since the Christmas period has been recognisable and very encouraging. Thus, Mignolet’s next challenge is to perform at this level over a full season, as he’s only been a regular starter since December. If he can do so, Jurgen Klopp’s search for a capable no.1 will be over before it started, as Mignolet is only 28, which is relatively young for a goalkeeper. He may be the type of player that matures and improves with age, much like Zlatan Ibrahimovic or Edwin van der Sar; if so, Liverpool will be able to benefit from his newly established approach for years to come.

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