25 June 2013

On Simon Mignolet

The official site just posted confirmation of Simon Mignolet's move to Liverpool, the club's fourth summer signing after Kolo Toure, Luis Alberto, and Iago Aspas. And it's only June 25. Sometimes, I don't recognize this Liverpool anymore.

So what kind of goalkeeper is Liverpool getting?

Wow, what an upgrade! Liverpool are going from a keeper who saved just 42 shots on target last season, 55% of the shots on target he faced, to a keeper who saved 124 shots, slightly less than 70% of the opposition shots on target. Mignolet averaged 3.26 saves per match, Reina averaged 1.35.

And here are the locations, via Squawka, of both saves made and goals conceded.

Mignolet allowed more in the center of the goal and the top right corner but saved loads more low shots to the bottom corners, while Reina allowed notably more low to his right.

Okay. Of course, it's not as clear cut as shots saved and goals conceded totals.

Reina, in seven fewer league appearances, faced fewer than half the amount of shots on target as Mignolet, which makes fairly clear the difference in playing for Liverpool versus playing for Sunderland. The most shots on target Mignolet faced in a single match was 11, against Tottenham on the last day, but he also saw 10 from Liverpool and Villa, eight from Arsenal, and seven from City and Wigan. The most Reina saw in a single match was five: from Spurs (a), Stoke (a), and Wigan (a). Five shots on target would have been a fairly easy day for Mignolet last season. If your defense is allowing that many more shots, especially shots from distance, you're bound to come up with a few more saves.

And almost as important as save percentage is the goalkeeper's distribution. Reina's passing from the back has been one of his biggest assets during his Liverpool tenure, and it's especially crucial in Brendan Rodgers' system, where every defensive player needs to be comfortable with the ball at his feet.

Mignolet completed just 41.4% of his passes last season; 746 attempted, 306 successful. Reina completed 70.8%; 692 attempted, 490 successful. The average length of a Mignolet pass was 51 meters; Reina's average was 36 meters. Sure, much of that may have to do with both Martin O'Neill and Paolo di Canio's managerial preferences – especially's O'Neill love of hoofing and hoping – but in naming him player of the season, the incomparable Sunderland blog Roker Report notably mentioned Mignolet's need to improve his distribution. That's no small matter at Liverpool.

In addition to his outstanding save percentage, Mignolet also had a higher success rate claiming crosses and punching clear than Reina, although both were well above the league average.

The Belgian was the best keeper in the league last season according to WhoScored's player rating, but the fourth highest-rated by Squawka, behind Cech, Begovic, and Pepe Reina, mainly due to his horrific possession score.

Despite Liverpool's claims to the contrary, you'd have to assume this signals the end for Pepe Reina, whether he leaves this summer or next summer. We've seen quotes to the contrary from both Reina and Rodgers, but you rarely buy a £9m keeper just for "competition" (*ignores references to Chris Kirkland*).

And Pepe Reina is both one of Liverpool's longest serving players and biggest personalities in the dressing room. His exit in the same summer as Jamie Carragher's retirement would leave a massive, gaping hole in the squad. Only Gerrard and Brad Jones will be 30 years or older, only Gerrard has been at the club longer than Reina. Only Gerrard, Agger, Lucas, and Skrtel would have made their debuts prior to the 2009-10 season, when Liverpool began this Hicks & Gillet-induced decline they've yet to recover from. That's a starling lack of institutional memory.

Still, I guess change has to happen sometime.

Both Mignolet and Reina are excellent keepers, despite Reina's drop in form last season (and then subsequent improvement as the season went on). But Pepe Reina is 30 years old, soon to be 31, and rumored to be on wages of approximately £100k a week. Simon Mignolet is six years younger, and will probably earn about half of Reina's wages, at most. Which is around £2.5m-per-year difference.

That, coupled with Reina's longing glances toward Barcelona, whether this summer or next summer, is pretty much the alpha and omega of this deal. For a change, Liverpool are proactive in dealing with a key player's possible exit. A welcome change. And you'd be hard-pressed to find a better young keeper in the Premier League who's available for less money.

If it's not clear from the multiple links, this would have been vastly more difficult without Squawka, who are, hands down, one of the best resources for football analysis.


Thomas Ledbetter said...

Great piece on Mignolet. Very excited about the new addition.
My guess regarding Reina is that, if we don't sell him to Barca this summer, Barca will sell Valdes in January to avoid letting him go for free in the summer, and at that point they will get Reina. So go ahead and buy Mignolet now, let him 'understudy' until January to ease him into the squad and take the pressure off of being LFC's starting keeper, as well as try to maintain some consistency in the back-line following Carra's, and possibly many more defensive players, exit.

Bjorn hof said...

I love that we are proactive.
A year together can only improve them both imho.

Anonymous said...

That bleeping bleep yellow dot out on the far right of Reina's graphic...

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