Simon Mignolet’s Liverpool career is like a Rocky Balboa movie on steroids. One moment he looks down and out with the ropes not even coming to his aid and the next he’s defied the odds to mount the comeback of all comebacks.
But while Rocky does this once or twice throughout all six of his movies, the Belgian ‘keeper appears to have these moments – going from zero to hero – every other month.
Consistency still isn’t part of his repertoire and at 29 he’s unlikely to add that to his game anytime soon. The only thing reliable about the former Sunderland shot stopper is knowing a turnaround in his form is always just one game away.
He’s kept true to form throughout the 2016/17 season. The summer signing of Loris Karius looked to have relegated Mignolet to a role on the bench heading into the new season a mere five months after signing a contract extension at Anfield.
However, the Mainz ‘keeper broke his hand in a pre-season friendly with Chelsea after clashing with Dejan Lovren. Mignolet was given a stay of execution in the first-team.
He didn’t get off to the best of starts and was criticised for his part in a goal Roma scored during a friendly between the two sides. Ex-Chelsea winger Mohammed Salah was able to pass the ball home from all of two yards out with the ‘keeper rooted to his line.
A falha do Mignolet no gol da Roma pic.twitter.com/utTZrt47x6
— Merseyside Reds Br (@MerseysideReds3) August 2, 2016
Perhaps it’s harsh to lay the blame solely at the feet of the Belgian number two. Andre Wisdom could have reacted quicker. But at the time it was the latest goal the Reds had conceded that he could have done better on.
He’s an enigma and has been ever since his arrival at the club in the summer of 2013. He can go from looking like a genuine top six goalkeeper to looking like one who would struggle to start for a team fighting relegation. That’s how dramatic his form can be.
Liverpool’s title challenge masked his inabilities during his debut season with the club. Brendan Rodgers’ men finished as runners-up but conceded 50 goals. Many blamed the defence, or lack of, and he was given the benefit of the doubt.
The video below however shows he was part of the problem and although those in front of him let him down he did return the favour on a number of occasions.
His patchy form continued throughout the following seasons. Over his four years with the club there have been periods he wasn’t starting between the sticks but, for the most part, he’s been first-choice and during that time Liverpool have conceded 188 league goals.
It was revealed over the 2015 Christmas period that since the start of 2013/14 season Mignolet had made the most errors of any goalkeeper in the Premier League. Klopp backed the player and even defended him following on from his mistake in the 2-2 draw with West Brom.
Mignolet flapped at a corner and it allowed Craig Dawson to tap home. A month later the ‘keeper’s involvement in a goal was once again under the microscope as fierce rivals took all three points home from their trip to Anfield.
Marouane Fellaini’s header came back off the bar and Wayne Rooney fired into the roof of the net. Mignolet was on his knees as the ball bounced back into play off the woodwork.
His bipolar performances were balancing out in terms of the points he was winning and losing for the Reds. You can’t build a defence on such flimsy foundations and Jürgen Klopp was well aware of this.
Why else would he secure the services of Karius so early on in the summer and convince him to miss going to the 2016 Olympics with Germany. It was clear the German manager had a new No.1 in mind.
Things don’t always go to plan though. Karius’ injury meant Mignolet started the season for the Reds as the first choice ‘keeper. Liverpool looked good, the defence looked stable and the Belgian looked to be less of a risk. So much so that there was outrage from certain sections of the fanbase when Klopp restored his compatriot to the first-team after returning from the broken hand.
Many believed Mignolet didn’t deserve to be dropped and doing so would be detrimental to his confidence. The whole situation was made worse by the fact Karius struggled to adapt to the Premier League. After the German stoppers performance was taken apart on Monday Night Football following a mistake against West Ham United, Klopp turned to his second choice ‘keeper.
— Sky Football ⚽️ (@SkyFootball) February 5, 2017
Since replacing Karius in December, he’s been true to form in the sense one week fans want him sold and the next he’s a cult hero.
Following on from the goalkeeper’s questionably involvement in a goal against Stoke City in December, Sky Sports pundit Jamie Carragher said Liverpool needed to sign Joe Hart because they can’t rely on Mignolet.
A mistake against Hull City in the 2-0 defeat in early February further increased the pressure with Klopp admitting it can’t be ignored: “For sure, he was not alone around the goal, but he had it nearly in his hands, so he cannot ignore this.”
The error against Hull happened just days after David Luiz caught Mignolet out with a free-kick in the 1-1 draw with the Chelsea at Anfield.
Klopp had a decision to make; stick with Mignolet or drop him for the second time in a single season?
He opted to do with the former and he’s been rewarded as of late with his ‘keeper being in fine form in the two wins over Stoke City and West Bromwich Albion. The former Borussia Dortmund manager was signing his praises after the win at the Bet365 stadium.
“Simon Mignolet, what a save,” he said “I have no idea how. That was genius and I am really happy for him. He saved our life.”
But is this series of impressive performances enough to save his career at Anfield? Has he turned a corner and will he be able to put in these performance on a consistent basis? Or Is it just a rich vein of form which he’s shown throughout his time on Merseyside?
If you were a betting man you’d hedge your bets towards the latter. You can’t help but feel he’s 90 minutes away from a howler as a repeat offender.
He’s completed yet another Rocky Balboa fairytale turnaround – possibly his third of the season. Can Liverpool continue to chance their arm with him? One of these days he just might not get back up.