One of the less covered transfer sagas of the summer was Simon Mignolet’s signing for Liverpool, and the consequent exit of Pepe Reina. With only three weeks remaining until the start of the new season, I decided to compare the stats of the two keepers, and eximine wether Mignolet fits into the Liverpool setting.
When Liverpool agreed to send Pepe Reina on loan to Napoli, an iconic figure left Anfield. Reina arrived in Liverpool from Villareal in 2005 with great credentials. Rafa Benitez even called him ‘the best goalkeeper in Spain’. He certainly lived up to the expectation. He was the one who reached fifty clean sheets in the least amount of matches as a Liverpool keeper, and he holds the highest number of consecutive clean sheets with eight goalless matches out of all the previous Liverpool keepers. He won two major trophies with Liverpool, the 2006 FA Cup and the 2012 League Cup.
The 25 year old Belgian burst onto the scene as the keeper of Sunderland in 2010. He impressed fans and pundits alike, and grew into the best player of Sunderland. Many actually beleive that he was the main reson beyon Sunderland staying in the Premier League.
Last season, Mignolet played in every league game of Sunderland, and managed to keep 11 clean sheets. However, Reina achieved more clean sheets in less matches. 14 clean sheets in 31 appearances is very impressive. It is important to note that Reina achieved these stats in a team that was aiming for the European places. Mignolet played behind an ageing backline which included not so good defenders. Who would you rather have in your defense, Carragher and Agger or Cuellar and Bramble? Exactly.
I expect Mignolet to keep more clean sheets than 11 in the next season. He will be playing behind a better defense, and a side that will enjoy more posession than Sunderland did. This matters a lot as the opposition will find it hard to have chances against you if you have the ball.
Mignolet averaged 2.48 saves per goal. This is a lot better than Reina, who averaged 1.27 saves per goal. This highlights why Mignolet will be an upgrade over Reina if Liverpool want to get back to the top four. Mignolet has better reflexes, so a team that will dominate most other teams, and not give away many chances needs a keeper who will provide the occasional big save when he is called upon, but will be solid otherwise.
No-one questions how valuable Reina had been for Liverpool, but he was also capable of the ocassional gaff. Mignolet is more solid. This translates to more clean sheets when Liverpool are dominating a match. If Liverpool can win a few games 1-0 instead of drawing 1-1, they can easily leapfrog teams around them. A few points more can mean the difference between Europa League and Champions League football.
A big question with any goalkeeper in the Premier League is weather he can deal with crosses. The numbers suggest that Reina was better in this aspect of the game. He attampted to punch less crosses(42%) than Mignolet (58%). Reina was also more successful with catching crosses. He was able to catch the ball 89% of the time when he opted not to punch it. Mignolet caught the ball 96% of the time in such cases.
Reina also had more success with distribution. Reina had a shorter distribution range when passing, throwing, or punching the ball with an average of 36 meters. Mignolet had a longer range of distribution with an average of 51 meters. This explains why Mignolet had less success with his passing. He had a distribution success of 46%, while Reina beat him with an impressive 75%. However it is fair to expect that Mignolet will play more short passes next season, as Brendan Rodgers will ask him to pass the ball to the defenders instead of launching it into midfield. This will certainly improve his pass success rate.
Despite all the aspects of the game that Reina might seem to be better at the moment, Mignolet is only 25 years old. He is at an age where his style can be formed to the needs of Liverpool, the team that he has the chance to play for years to come.
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