Originally published on Premier Punditry.
Liverpool went into this season with a revamped squad that, from a depth perspective at least, appeared to have been bolstered in virtually all areas over the course of the summer. On paper, the only real question mark was the goalkeeper position, where Simon Mignolet was backed up by a 32-year-old journeyman who the manager barely trusted to start domestic cup matches last year. What was the worst that could happen?
How about Mignolet regressing into walking nervous breakdown between the sticks? The Belgian’s lack of presence and complete inability to command his area has simply been painful to watch — at times, it’s been like watching a 5’4” guy in action instead of a 6’4” experienced professional. On top of that, Mignolet’s distribution and general composure in possession — skills that, in theory, he should be able to improve upon — have somehow only gotten worse. It’s meant that Brendan Rodgers has been left with a starting keeper basically incapable of playing the way he’s often stated that he wants his starting keeper to play. (That would be comfortable enough in possession so that Liverpool could essentially have 11 outfield players on the pitch.)
This wouldn’t be as big of a deal if there was a credible backup who could be called upon to, at the very least, spell Mignolet when his form takes a turn for the worse and, ideally, provide legitimate competition for the full-time starting position. But Liverpool have no such option, even though such a dilemma was entirely foreseeable when business closed at the end of August with the club having failed to bring in another goalkeeper. As a result, Mignolet’s been allowed to flail his way through much of this season, the manager bereft of any real alternative.
Brendan Rodgers seemingly had enough after Liverpool crashed out of the Champions League to Basel last week, and Brad Jones was drafted into the team at Old Trafford in basically Liverpool’s biggest Premier League game of the season. While he wasn’t a complete trainwreck, he undoubtedly could have been much, much better on all three of United’s goals — his positioning was atrocious, he often guessed wrong and he was no more commanding in his area or comfortable with the ball at his feet than Mignolet.
Liverpool could have signed Michel Vorm, who played the sweeper-keeper position to wonderful effect while under Rodgers at Swansea City, this past summer. They chose not to and now he’s warming the bench at Spurs. According to a few journalists who follow the club closely, they could have had him if they were willing to simply stump up the cash. Liverpool have nobody to blame for this mess but themselves — and it is a mess of obscene proportions when Brad Jones is your no. 1 keeper for the foreseeable future.
Other Thoughts from Manchester United 3-0 Liverool
- United were far from vintage, but they deserved the result. They’re playing like a side that’s aware of their limitations but have come to trust each other and the strategy that the manager is implementing at the club. The scoreline may have been harsh given the results Liverpool created, but the result undoubtedly was not. That’s all you’ll get out of me, Mancs.
- Liverpool’s backline was rubbish. Glen Johnson started on the right side of a back three — a role he’s played at times when the team’s been chasing a game, but rarely from the outset, and never away from home against a team of United’s quality. Things didn’t get much better when Kolo Toure came on for the injured Johnson in the first half, with Dejan Lovren continuing to look completely bereft of confidence or composure. Mamadou Sakho has to get a run of games in this side; otherwise, he’s as good as gone and Liverpool will have to build up this backline again from scratch next summer. I don’t think any LFC supporter has the appetite for that.
- Steven Gerrard was again exposed playing as Liverpool’s deepest midfielder — the guy can only do so much at his age and he’s simply not a natural defensive midfielder. (The normally excellent Joe Allen also had one of his worst games in recent memory alongside Gerrard.) Who knows where he’ll play against Arsenal next week, especially with Rodgers’ decision to load the top of the field with pace and energy reaping benefits though the sheer number of chances that Liverpool created.
- Speaking of Liverpool’s terrible backline and exposed midfield, there’s the fact that Lucas Leiva found himself in a familiar position today — on the bench. I wrote about Lucas for Premier Punditry last week, and everything said at the time rings especially true today. It’s simply not a coincidence that Liverpool shipped three goals with Lucas sitting out for the first time in over two weeks. Of course, the team looked a lot better in attack than it had months, essentially, but the two aren’t mutually exclusive — that balance may just have to come at Steven Gerrard’s expense. And that’s a decision I don’t think anyone at the club is willing to make.
- I liked what I saw from Mario. With the (possible) exception of Gerrard, he’s arguably Liverpool’s best player on the ball; the dude just oozes quality. Of course, the question with Mario is usually what he offers off the ball, but in that regard he did exceptionally well against United (even making this terrific run to latch onto the end of a wonderful piece of play by Lazar Markovic).
- David De Gea is boss. Never let him go, United. You don’t know what you have. Cherish it.