Mamadou Sakho & Simon Mignolet: The Final Word

There have been countless conversations about Mamadou Sakho and Simon Mignolet in recent time. For completely different reasons, the two players seem to dominate conversations when they do anything that’s even slightly noteworthy. I’ve found myself in numerous Twitter arguments in recent days about both of them, so in the end I thought the best thing to do would be to write a blog filled with all of my thoughts on the matter, then I could simply direct people here instead of trying to explain in 140 characters why there’s no room for either of them at Liverpool moving forward.

I’m well aware that Liverpool fans like to talk about the past, with very good reasons for doing so. Yet I’m surprised how quickly people forget things when it’s convenient for them. At no point during either Sakho or Mignolet’s time at the club have we been particularly strong in defence. In fact, it’s fair to say that the opposite is true. In the heads of some supporters, though, Mignolet’s resurgence and Sakho’s performances on loan at Crystal Palace mean that we’ll be fine if we play them both next season. Here, in turn, is an exploration of why that way of thinking is extremely flawed.

Simon Mignolet’s Improved, But His Days Must Be Numbered

It’s not always easy to talk about things without your own opinions clouding the matter. I have ever made a secret of my dislike of Simon Mignolet. It’s not a personal matter, the player seems like a nice bloke and everyone appears to like him. It’s simply a matter of wanting what’s best for Liverpool Football Club and I don’t believe that the Belgian is the answer on that front. I would readily admit that he has improved in a number of departments this year, yet the underlying problems that have dogged his time at Anfield remain. To ignore that would be a misreading of the situation, in my opinion.

Let’s move away from talking specifically about the goalkeeper for a second, after all Mignolet hasn’t been the only man between the sticks over the last four seasons. Here is a list of the goals conceded over the past ten league campaigns, with more likely to be conceded this year:

  • 2007-2008: 28
  • 2008-2009: 27
  • 2009-2010: 35
  • 2010-2011: 44
  • 2011-2012: 40
  • 2012-2013: 43
  • 2013-2014: 50
  • 2014-2015: 48
  • 2015-2016: 50
  • 2016-2017: 40

During those ten seasons we have had five different managers and countless different defensive set-ups. We signed Simon Mignolet ahead of the 2013-2014 campaign and during his best season as our goalkeeper we have conceded four goals more than our worst season before he arrived. According to Wikipedia, Mignolet has so far made 130 appearances for us since arriving from Sunderland for a little under £12 million. Here’s a look at his clean sheets by season compared to league games played:

  • 2013-2014: 10 in 38
  • 2014-2015: 14 in 36
  • 2015-2016: 11 in 34
  • 2016-2017: 4 in 22

So during his time at the club the Belgian has managed to keep 39 clean sheets in 130 league appearances. Obviously the defence that is in front of him makes a difference in its own way, but if you think that he’s not a part of that defensive unit then you don’t understand the way defences work. He’s a huge part of it and is responsible for communicating with the players in front of him whenever possible. Let’s be absolutely clear, the goalkeeper is as much a part of the defensive unit as centre-backs or full-backs, if not more important. He can see the game developing in front of him and should be telling his teammates what’s going on around them, yet one of the long-term criticisms of Mignolet is that he doesn’t talk enough.

Pretty much every single Liverpool fan would be quick to say that we need to sort out the defence, considering that we haven’t conceded less than 40 goals in a league campaign since Rafa Benitez’s final season. One thing the numbers prove is that we have gotten worse at the back since Mignolet was signed. Some of that is because Rodgers played more expansive football than his predecessors and it’s certainly true that Jürgen Klopp has followed suit. Yet some of it is also because of the man between the sticks.

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Whether you’re looking at his poor distribution, his inability to communicate properly with his defence or his brain farts that crop of fairly regularly, Simon Mignolet is not a goalkeeper that any other club with dreams of winning the Premier League title would want in their side. He has been part of a defence that has leaked goals throughout his time at the club, so the current vogue of people to suggest that the manager would be better spending his money elsewhere this summer concerns me a lot. Yes he’s improved in certain aspects of his game this season, yet we don’t look any less like conceding stupid goals from set-pieces and the like. That’s nothing to do with expansive football and everything to do with a defensive unit that doesn’t work well together.

Sakho Shouldn’t Return

As for Mamadou Sakho, the Frenchman’s time at the club is done for entirely different reasons. I was involved in an argument on Twitter yesterday with someone who is convinced that Sakho is better than anyone we’ve currently got at the back. I should point out that, though we shared a robust exchange of opinions, the conversation never turned nasty or personal. I point that out mainly because it’s such a rare occurrence on Twitter, where people are quick to descend into the puerile if someone disagrees with them. I should also point out that I very much disagreed with him…

Their argument that Sakho is a talented football is not without merit. He became something of a cult figure at Anfield for very good reason. As well as being great in the local community, offering volunteer to help paint people’s houses and so on, he also put in some top-notch performances. Who could possibly forget the goal he scored against Borussia Dortmund in the Europa League last season? Yet the idea that the former captain of Paris Saint Germain is some sort of defensive colossus is deeply flawed. He had a dodgy moment in him just like the rest of our defence and suggesting otherwise is re-writing his time at the club.

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Rather than make claims without proof, I’ll do what I did for Mignolet and let numbers do the talking. We signed Sakho ahead of the 2013-2014 league campaign and he played eighteen times. During those eighteen league games we conceded 29 goals and kept one clean sheet. the following season he made sixteen appearances and we conceded 23 times. In 2015-2016 he played 22 times and the Reds allowed the opposition to score 31 times. Over those two seasons we kept twelve clean sheets in the 45 games he appeared in. The very notion that he’s the answer to all of our defensive problems is, frankly, a joke.

People point to the player’s performances for Crystal Palace as a sign that he’d be able to improve Liverpool’s leaky defence and it’s certainly true that he’s looked good during his games at Selhurst Park. Yet to suggest that two teams are comparable in the way they set-up is laughable. Sam Allardyce has no problem whatsoever putting plenty of men behind the ball and going long, meaning that the French defender is part of a deep-lying set up down in London. At Liverpool we ask everyone to push forward and leave the defence exposed, much like we did under Rodgers when Sakho was part of a team that conceded 83 goals in 56 games. It’s chalk and cheese.

The simple fact is that Sakho shouldn’t play for Liverpool again and it’s got nothing to do with his ability as a defender. Since Jürgen Klopp arrived as manager he has consistently broken the rules set out by the manager, proving that he can’t operate as part of a team. He has assumed himself to be better than the German, turning up late for training and for team meetings and being rude to him on our tour of the States in the summer. That’s to say nothing of his decision to take medication without consulting with the club’s medical staff, resulting in him missing the most important games of the 2015-2016 campaign.

I am currently in the middle of reading Simon Hughe’s book Ring Of Fire and I found an excerpt from the Danny Murphy chapter really interesting. He said, “…There has to be some framework of discipline at a club. If a manager keeps allowing someone to step outside it – even if it’s for daft things like turning up late – the indiscipline spreads quickly”. Murphy was talking about Gerard Houllier’s time at the club, but it’s just as applicable to the Sakho Saga. Supporters might not like it, but it’s vital for managers to build a winning mentality at a football club. That Sakho doesn’t have the ability to back up his arrogant behaviour makes the decision even easier for Jürgen Klopp.

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