It was quite a day for Liverpool’s goalkeeping department. Their goalkeeping coach, John Achterberg, drew the Grand National winner, One for Arthur, in the club’s sweepstake, while, rather more importantly, Simon Mignolet made two world-class saves to ensure Liverpool are still favourites to make the Champions League come May.
After the 2-1 victory at Stoke secured by substitutes Roberto Firmino and Philippe Coutinho – “my half-ill, half-fit boys” as Jurgen Klopp called them – Liverpool have six hurdles to clear. None of them looks especially daunting.
For a man who began his Liverpool career by saving a penalty against Stoke in August 2013, Mignolet has had a hard job convincing their supporters that his goalkeeping ability met their ambitions.
Stoke 1 Liverpool 2 player ratings
Stoke 1 Liverpool 2 player ratings
1/24 Lee Grant – 6 out of 10
Caught off his line by Firmino, but in truth, was little else he could do about such an inch-perfect strike.
2/24 Glen Johnson – 5 out of 10
Initially comfortable against his former club but, like many of his teammates, faded as the game went on.
3/24 Bruno Martins Indi – 5 out of 10
Too easily let Firmino slip for Liverpool’s second after a long ball over the top.
4/24 Ryan Shawcross – 6 out of 10
Has the measure of Origi, but struggled once up against the quality of Firmino.
5/24 Erik Pieters – 6 out of 10
Another who was not troubled by anything Liverpool tried in the first half, but Clyne proved to be a much tougher opponent than Alexander-Arnold.
6/24 Xherdan Shaqiri – 8 out of 10
Enjoyed himself against Clyne, especially for the goal, producing an inch-perfect cross for Walters.
7/24 Geoff Cameron – 6 out of 10
Had no trouble with Liverpool’s midfield in the first half but was overran as the visitors gained momentum in the second.
8/24 Joe Allen – 6 out of 10
Injured early on in a challenge and forced off, will be disappointed to not have lasted against his former club. Replaced by Charlie Adam.
9/24 Marko Arnautovic – 7 out of 10
Had his way with Liverpool’s makeshift backline before the break but saw his influence diminish in the second half.
10/24 Saido Berahino – 5 out of 10
Really should have levelled the score when presented with a simple tap in a few yards out.
11/24 Jonathan Walters – 7 out of 10
A handful for Liverpool’s defence and took his goal well, but was fading by the time he was replaced.
12/24 Simon Mignolet – 9 out of 10
Saved his team on several occasions, particularly with two brilliant point-blank saves.
13/24 Trent Alexander-Arnold – 4 out of 10
Like his fellow teenager Woodburn, struggled with the physicality of the game. Perhaps should not have been thrown in at the deep end, was subbed at half time.
14/24 Ragnar Klavan – 4 out of 10
Continued his worrying vein of form with another disappointing performance. Never looked comfortable up against a runner like Arnautovic.
15/24 Joel Matip – 4 out of 10
Should have blocked the cross for Walters’ goal but appeared to duck out of its way.
16/24 Dejan Lovren – 6 out of 10
Will be unfairly singled out for the goal, was left with three men to mark.
17/24 Nathaniel Clyne – 6 out of 10
Could have done better to track Shaqiri and prevent the cross for Walters’ goal. Massive improvement in the second half on his preferred right flank, especially offensively.
18/24 Emre Can – 5 out of 10
Another underwhelming display, though it featured moments when Can showed he can be the all-action, bustling midfield presence Liverpool need. Those moments were too rare.
19/24 Georginio Wijnaldum – 4 out of 10
One of his poorest displays in a Liverpool shirt, one with many mistimed tackles. Heading a Stoke corner back into his own box at the start of the second half was suicidal.
20/24 James Milner – 7 out of 10
Probably Liverpool’s best outfield player before Coutinho and Firmino’s introductions, but that was not saying much. Adapted well to a midfield role after spending the season at left-back.
21/24 Ben Woodburn – 4 out of 10
Will feel he deserved a penalty just prior to Stoke’s goal, but ultimately, the incident was an example of how easily he was bullied.
22/24 Divock Origi – 6 out of 10
Struggled alone up top in the first half but also lacked any kind of service. Replaced by Daniel Sturridge.
23/24 Philippe Coutinho – 9 out of 10
Even when under the weather, the best player on the pitch. The game changed following his introduction.
24/24 Roberto Firmino – 8 out of 10
Superbly taken goal. He may be tired, but Klopp cannot afford to rest him over the coming weeks.
Stoke has been Mignolet’s litmus test. In May 2015, in Steven Gerrard’s farewell game for the club, Mignolet conceded six. Here, he was superb.
“There was never a doubt that Simon is a top keeper,” said Klopp. “He is how goalkeepers are. He is very confident and this was a goalkeeper’s day. I cannot remember the last time he made a big mistake.”
Bringing in Loris Karius from one of his former clubs, Mainz, in the summer suggested Klopp had plenty of doubts. However, Mignolet seems to have seen off that challenge – Karius has not featured since the three disastrous days in January when Liverpool exited the League and FA Cups at home to Southampton and Wolves.
However, of the six teams challenging for the four Champions League places, Liverpool and Manchester City are the two who field the weakest goalkeepers.
The Liverpool manager argued that there are certain keepers, like Mignolet and Manchester City’s Claudio Bravo, who are judged solely on their errors. Once the media has made up their mind that a goalkeeper is world class, every mistake he makes will be accompanied by the adjective “uncharacteristic”.
“I was a few years in Germany when the whole world was 100 per cent sure Manuel Neuer was the best goalkeeper in the world,” said Klopp. “He made mistakes but nobody spoke about it. When you play at that level, nobody speaks about your mistakes.
“With all goalkeepers it is about the image. Simon is a fantastic, hard-working guy and this was his day. We also heard it was John Achterberg’s day so this was a day for goalkeepers.”
Klopp did not play down the importance of Liverpool’s comeback at Stoke. He admitted to feeling sick when Bournemouth scored their late equaliser at Anfield on Wednesday night.
Had Stoke held on to their first-half lead, Liverpool would have finished the day knowing that Arsenal could afford to lose one of their three games in hand and still overtake them.
Now their six games left pitch them against opposition ranging in difficulty from West Bromwich Albion to Middlesbrough, who will probably already be relegated when they come to Anfield on the season’s final afternoon. In the equivalent games earlier in the season, Liverpool won four and drew two. A repeat of those results will see them back among the European elite.
Klopp knew he was taking a gamble by leaving the Brazilians on the bench and starting with Divock Origi and 17-year-old Ben Woodburn. But it paid off as spectacularly as any Grand National bet.
“My life is about making decisions,” said Klopp. “Some of them are good and some of them are not. If we had lost 1-0, the whole world would have said: ‘what have you done?’”Reuse content