23rd April, 2016. Benitez’s Newcastle side visit Anfield and get off to a sour note, going 2-0 down by half time to goals from Adam Lallana and Daniel Sturridge. The game ends 2-2 as one Belgian goalkeeper makes a dreadful error when coming to claim a cross, allowing Cisse to get above him and head into a practically open net, getting Newcastle back in the game. For me, Mignolet’s Liverpool career was over that day. I felt there was no way back for him once the Summer transfer window had begun. How wrong I was.
The Belgian in fairness didn’t do a lot wrong before being dropped for Loris Karius earlier this season. He saved a penalty at the Emirates off Theo Walcott on opening day and while he still failed to inspire huge amounts of confidence, he generally looked a better keeper than he had in 2015/16. His attitude when eventually being dropped for his younger counterpart was exemplary and none of us could quite have predicted just how well he would respond to being left on the bench.
Since his return to our starting XI, Mignolet has played in 6 league games, conceding just 5 goals and keeping 3 clean sheets. This is a vast improvement on the 8 he conceded in the opening 5 games of the season and it’s been nothing to do with being less busy either.
The Belgian has made a number of important saves across the last month to deny the likes of Joe Allen, Jermaine Defoe, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Zlatan Ibrahimovic what looked like certain goals. Many Mignolet supporters have stressed that he’s a very good shot stopper and while it was called into question earlier in the season due to a poor shot faced/goals conceded ratio, he’s certainly proving himself as more than capable in that department of late.
Then there’s his general composure as a goalkeeper. Mignolet has always been one to make Reds fans feel nervous, worried and on edge whenever an opponent has the ball in or around the box. Now however, there is general belief in the Belgian to make saves and pull off the once unthinkable. There is also a noticeable lack of concern when it comes to corners, crosses and set pieces. While Mignolet was last season’s Claudio Bravo, there’s a newfound intelligence in his game, His ability this season to read when he should be claiming and when he should punch has impressed me majorly - see the United fixture, what a punch off that second half corner.
Finally, while once he would inspire no confidence on the ball whatsoever, sending goal kicks out for throw ins and struggling to reach the half way line - no I’m not joking - Mignolet has improved remarkably. There is a new sense of purpose and accuracy to the Belgian’s kicking and throwing while he looks to release the ball far quicker than he used to. Then of course there’s that moment he played keepy uppys over Aguero’s head.
He’s never going to be a David De Gea or Hugo Lloris and Loris Karius may very well be a long term replacement for him but one must give Mignolet credit for his response to being dropped. The Belgian has improved tenfold over recent weeks and looks confident, assured and most importantly; solid. So, while he’s here and the current man for the job, let’s get behind and ensure he carries on this rich vein of form.