It’s easy to criticise a manager when things aren’t going their way… but the same can be said for goalkeepers.
Not that Brendan Rodgers’ surprise decision to drop Liverpool No.1 Simon Mignolet ahead of the club’s most important away fixture of the season, a visit to Old Trafford last weekend, is entirely incomprehensible; he’s committed a number of chaotic howlers in recent weeks, ranging from a misplaced five-yard pass against Chelsea to a goal-mouth fumble against Ludogorets in the Champions League, eventually costing the Reds a vital three points and arguably, their place in the round of 16.
There’s a popular theory that Mignolet’s continuous mistakes have contributed to a culture of uncertainty in Liverpool’s defence. The Reds have made the most errors of any Premier League team this season, 20, and the second-most errors leading to goals, six. Admittedly, it’s a rather believable hypothesis.
Yet, there are equal and bigger culprits at the heart of Liverpool’s malaise this season – their surprise slump to the bottom half of the Premier League table – including the man in the dugout.
Indeed, whilst Rodgers may feel Mignolet’s recent performances have let Liverpool down, there are clearly other forces at work than simply a goalkeeper in implosive form. He’s got nothing to do with their current average of just 1.2 goals scored per match at the other end of the pitch for example, whilst their 1.38 goals conceded is largely on par with last term, 1.32.
Perhaps axing the 26 year-old was a tacit statement of the Anfield gaffer’s intentions to stop the rot, but why Mignolet exclusively when Dejan Lovren, Glen Johnson, Lazar Markovic and Mario Balotelli, not to mention Rodgers himself, are deserving of parallel blame?
It feels almost as if Liverpool have been overcomplicating everything this season, something their convoluted build-up play an insistence upon ball-retention epitomises perfectly, and that only stems from the manager. They’ve already tested five different formations in the Premier League, ranging from a midfield diamond to a 3-4-3 against United last weekend, whilst the individuals roles of Steven Gerrard and Raheem Sterling, arguably the Reds’ only dependable performers right now, are seemingly changing by the game.
Last season, Rodgers’ persistent tinkering was viewed as managerial genius, but this year it gives the impression of a chaotically-assembled squad, following Liverpool’s £120million summer spending spree, that poses far more questions than answers.
It’s unequivocally clear that Brendan Rodgers doesn’t know his strongest starting XI right now, except, apparently, one that excludes his first-choice goalkeeper, who has in fact made more saves, 294, than any top flight goalie over the last three seasons. Has the ostracised Mignolet contributed more negatively to Liverpool’s plight than summer acquisition Mario Balotelli, who is still yet to find his first Premier League goal in Reds colours despite averaging 4.2 shots per match? Or Dejan Lovren, now a shadow of the defender that excelled at Southampton last season and convinced Rodgers to splash out £20millon for his signature?
The only difference is that Rodgers purchased both this summer and dropping them for ‘an indefinite period’ – like Mignolet – would only further draw attention to the club’s recent failings in the transfer market. The ins and outs of Liverpool’s transfer committee, where the power truly lies, remain mysterious, but managers will inevitably live and die by the quality of their signings – a cardinal rule Rodgers is only becoming more and more aware of.
Rodgers lamented United’s proficiency in both boxes last Sunday amid the 3-0 defeat, the superfluous form of David De Gea and the quality of the Red Devils’ forward cast strongly contrasting with Brad Jones between the sticks and Raheem Sterling as an unorthodox centre-forward. But did the Belgian really need to be dropped for such an important fixture when his replacement, without being too condescending to Brad Jones, is so patently inadequate?
In my opinion, it was yet another unnecessary complication; a classic case of Rodgers over-thinking things in search of a simple solution to his many problems, the vast majority of which can be traced back to the summer. Scapegoating is a strong word but it certainly feels that way in regards to Mignolet. He’s not the most popular figure on Merseyside and is enduring arguably the toughest period of his career; right now, he’s easy pickings.
Whether its a case of favouritism towards certain players or fear of further criticisms of the summer signings, Mignolet is being treated in harsher terms than many of his equally under-performing team-mates. In a sense, that’s largely irrelevant however; more than any individual, it’s decisions made back in the summer that are continuing to let Rodgers down.