Simon Mignolet will start the 2015-16 Premier League season as Liverpool’s No. 1 goalkeeper. What happens after the first kick of the ball is anyone’s guess.
Mignolet’s dramatic loss of form in early 2014-15 cost him the trust of manager Brendan Rodgers, who benched the Belgian in mid-December in favor of Brad Jones. We’ll never know what would have happened had Jones not suffered an injury, forcing Rodgers to restore Mignolet to the starting lineup after a three-game absence. But Mignolet sorted out his problems, performed well in the second half of the season and saved his Anfield career … for now.
The current situation
Mignolet’s return to form put him in contention to win the Golden Gloves Award until the final weeks of the season — when Liverpool’s defensive resolve and his hopes of claiming the honor withered away. Mignolet convinced Rodgers he didn’t need to recruit a top-class goalkeeper in the offseason. Rodgers allowed Jones to leave as a free agent and signed Adam Bogdan from Bolton Wanderers as a free agent to push Mignolet for the starting goalkeeper’s job.
However, Bogdan probably won’t pose too much of a challenge to Mignolet, as the careers of both 27-year-olds sit on separate trajectories. Bogdan only has been a starter for two of the last four seasons, and those appearances have come primarily in the Championship (England’s second division), where Bolton has played since its relegation from the Premier League in 2012. Bogdan now has stepped up to a level much higher than he has ever played before. We don’t yet know if he can hack it, as a starter or backup, at this level.
Bogdan likely will serve as a willing deputy to Mignolet and only will play regular games in the event of an injury to the incumbent or another dramatic loss of form. If the latter happens, Liverpool likely will race into the transfer market for another goalkeeper, consigning Bogdan to backup duty once again. In the unlikely event in which Bogdan improves at Liverpool to the point where he displaces Mignolet on merit, the last 150 words of this piece will be for naught.
Ryan Fulton, 19, is Liverpool’s reserve goalkeeper. He might make the bench for a few first-team games but won’t see much action above the U-21 level. Danny Ward, 22, remains on Liverpool’s books but he’s spending the season on loan at Scottish Premier League club Aberdeen.
Bogdan should be happy just to be at Liverpool, but the 2015-16 season stands as Mignolet’s moment of truth. Mignolet enters his third campaign as Liverpool’s starting goalkeeper with the chance to show he can back-stop a team that harbors UEFA Champions League ambitions. Mignolet must command his penalty area with more authority and distribute the ball out of the back with greater accuracy than he has shown in past campaigns, while continuing to make highlight-reel saves. If he does these things, he’ll probably earn another season as Liverpool’s starter (and push Chelsea’s Thibaut Courtois for the No. 1 job with Belgium’s national team). If he fails, he’ll probably head for backup duty at Liverpool or leave the Reds for a club with lesser targets in its sights.
Liverpool starts the season with a settled goalkeeping situation, but it remains to be seen how long Mignolet can maintain his top form. If he plays well from start to finish in 2015-16, Liverpool likely will be willing to forget the horror show that was the first half of the 2014-15 season and continue confidently into the future with Mignolet in goal.
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Thumbnail photo via Twitter/@MagZaz5