Liverpool vs Manchester United: Simon Mignolet stopped 'overthinking' and is back to his best after being dropped

Since being dropped Simon Mignolet has set about saving his career at Anfield

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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”.

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.”