At some point, all footballers are dropped; even Lionel Messi has started on the bench this season. However, for a goalkeeper it is different.
It is almost never for tactical reasons. There is usually only one explanation – he is not good enough. And there is usually only one way back – the replacement is worse.
The day before Liverpool were due to play Manchester United in December, Brendan Rodgers called Simon Mignolet into his office at Melwood and told him he would not be starting.
There are ways and means of dropping keepers. Manuel Pellegrini always talked of Joe Hart being “rested” when he was left out by Manchester City last season, but Rodgers was brutal. When asked how long Mignolet might expect to be on the bench, the Liverpool manager replied “indefinitely”.
Liverpool vs Manchester United combined XI
Liverpool vs Manchester United combined XI
1/10 David De Gea
Simon Mignolet is hugely improved in recent weeks but David De Gea is arguably the best goalkeeper in the Premier League and easily Manchester United's most important player.
2/10 Emre Can
The versatile German is a true box-to-box threat, even when deployed as one of three centre-backs in Rodgers' back three. United have huge problems at the back, with Antonio Valencia beating Rafael to the right-back spot. Can, only 21, is a crucial piece in allowing Liverpool to play their 3-4-2-1.
3/10 Chris Smalling
As previously stated, United have defensive problems but the England defender has been a rare bright spot for Van Gaal, playing some of the best football of his United career. Phil Jones still seems erratic, while Marcos Rojo is not fully fit and Jonny Evans still suspended. Mamadou Sakho is a good defender but prone to mistakes.
4/10 Martin Skrtel
Skrtel has his critics but he has overcome poor form early in the season to become a real leader for Liverpool. He isn't always the best when in possession but he is an old-fashioned stopper, and a fierce competitor.
5/10 Jordan Henderson
With Steven Gerrard heading closer and closer to the exit, Henderson has really filled his role as captain and leader with a string of inspirational performances. The England man, whether playing wider right or in the middle, is a brilliant threat from all over the pitch, great in possession, ferocious in the tackle and has an eye for goal.
6/10 Michael Carrick
Divides opinion everywhere but surely proved against Tottenham just how important he is (and has been in the past) to United's success. Carrick was absolutely superb in possession, dictating the game and giving the inexperienced Ryan Mason and Nabil Bentaleb the run-around. Created the first and scored the second, United played their best football of the season because of a masterclass by their veteran midfielder.
7/10 Ander Herrera
Adds the legs and bite, as well as a touch of class, to the United midfield, even if he has been under-utilised by Van Gaal. Daley Blind is clearly a favourite of the Dutchman but Herrera's engine and tenacity give United a pace in their play that is sorely missing when he doesn't play.
8/10 Philippe Coutinho
Since being given the freedom of the park in Rodgers' new formation the Brazilian has excelled, scoring wonderful goals and seeing his relationship with Daniel Sturridge and Raheem Sterling flourish. A real match-winner, United will have to keep a keen eye on Coutinho. Ashley Young has been fantastic for United this season and deserves a mention but he is not quite playing at Coutinho's level.
9/10 Wayne Rooney
What a surprise, Wayne Rooney has been sensational playing as a striker. He may well be extremely capable of playing in midfield but United lose much more than they gain by deploying their captain deeper; he was brilliant against Spurs and Liverpool will view him as the main threat.
10/10 Daniel Sturridge
Hasn't exactly set the world alight since returning from injury, with only three goals from 12 matches, but he loves big matches and has starred in previous games against Liverpool's biggest rivals. Marouane Fellaini was excellent against Spurs but he has been very up and down this season.
That proved to be three-and-a-bit matches. Brad Jones was injured early on in the Boxing Day fixture at Burnley. Mignolet went on and delivered a display that could kindly be described as sketchy. Liverpool, however, hung on to win 1-0. Mignolet has been in goal ever since.
The Belgian goalkeeper said: “At the time it gave me a chance to reflect on my game, something you don’t really have time to do when you are playing two games a week.”
However, after the Burnley game, his fiancée, Jasmien, told him over dinner that he might be “overthinking things”.
“I had support when I was dropped,” he said. “I always had the old goalie coaches, keepers I used to play with. My missus was a big support at the time. But, in the end, it is always you who has to come through.”
Not everyone was supportive. Bruce Grobbelaar, who had won two European Cups at Anfield, welcomed his exile, saying Mignolet was “worse than Dracula when it came to dealing with crosses”.
But Mignolet said: “I am my own biggest critic. Every time I analyse a game, it’s always ‘what could be done better?’ I know that as a goalkeeper, you are remembered only for your last game. I know I played a half-decent game at Swansea on Monday but, if things turn around against United, nobody will mention the Swansea game. That is football, you have to accept that.”
Liverpool are Mignolet’s third club. At Sint Truiden, his home-town team, and at Sunderland he made his name in sides struggling against relegation.
His last season on Wearside saw him keep 11 clean sheets in a team that finished fourth bottom. At Sunderland he was popular and unaffected. He was given an Audi on arrival and was still driving it when he left three years later.
Liverpool have different requirements and in his first match in front of the Kop, Mignolet looked nervous. Liverpool won, 1-0 against Stoke. Mignolet saved a penalty.
“I don’t get nervous any more,” he said. “There is the adrenaline rush before the game but it is more excitement. You learn to relish it as well. When I was younger I wanted to play in big games in front of big crowds but it is something you have to get used to.
“But I remember when I was younger, playing in the Belgium second division in front of 500 or maybe 2,000 people. That might be easier in terms of pressure but, believe me, I prefer to play in front of a full Anfield against Manchester United. That’s why you want to be a footballer.”Reuse content