I recently wrote an article looking at which goalkeepers may be suitable to replace Pepe Reina if he were to leave (read more here). Using a simple analysis of short passing accuracy and save percentage, the suggestion was that Sunderland’s Simon Mignolet would not be up to the task.
However, as the transfer talk intensifies that the Belgian stopper will be heading to Liverpool, I thought I’d dig a little deeper to see if anything else suggests he could adequately replace the Reds’ Spanish custodian. Or, dare I say it, actually prove to be better.
I have researched various statistics via EPLIndex for the previous three seasons of Premier League football, as that is how long Mignolet has played in England. The obvious place to start is save percentage:
As a point of reference, the average save percentage in the Premier League is 71.5%, so we can see that Reina has been below par for the last three seasons, whilst his Mackem counterpart has been above for the previous two.
Obviously the number of saves will be dependent on the quality of team played for, but it’s interesting to note that Mignolet made almost as many in 2012/13 as Reina has in the previous two seasons combined.
I can also add one other aspect to save percentage which adds to Mignolet’s case to be the superior goalkeeper at present. Although I am unable to combine the shots in the box figures with the saves to figure out who had the higher save percentage of in-box shots, whilst Liverpool conceded the fewest shots in the box in the Premier League this season, Sunderland conceded the second most, which was also the second most of the ninety-eight teams in Europe’s big five leagues.
In other words, on average, Sunderland were giving away better chances to the opposition than Liverpool were, and Mignolet was still (in all likelihood) saving a higher proportion of them to boot. Impressive stuff.
The next stat I’ve looked at is defensive errors. It is inevitable that your goal keeper will make the occasional mistake which benefits the opposition from time-to-time, but obviously you want as few as possible from your last line of defence. How do the two players compare?
Whilst Reina has made progressively more defensive errors year-on-year, Mignolet has made fewer. Indeed, the Belgian has made fewer in total in the last two years than the Spaniard did in 2012/13 alone.
Opta also log the number of crosses that a keeper catches, punches and misses, and here are the figures for the two keepers:
As with defensive errors, Reina is missing more crosses than ever before (in proportional terms), whilst Mignolet’s form is heading in the right direction. Similarly, the Mackem stopper missed fewer in the last two campaigns overall than Pepe did in 2012/13.
One other stat that I’ve discovered that may be of interest is ‘Sweeper Keeper’. This is defined on the Opta website as: “When a goalkeeper comes out of his goal to sweep up behind his defence and attempt to clear the ball”.
Brendan Rodgers has spoken at length about needing eleven outfielders, including a goalkeeper who can perform the duties of a sweeper, and it’s important to note that on EPLIndex the description of the number is “sweeper kept possession”, so a simple boot into touch would not be logged. How do Reina and Mignolet measure up?
Unfortunately I don’t know how many of these situations each keeper faced, so can’t compile a success rate percentage, but the figures at least suggest that Mignolet has some ability in this area, and as with most things, he seems to have improved with each year he has spent in England.
My previous brief analysis showed that Mignolet was a long way behind Reina in terms of his distribution, and a closer look at the figures certainly emphasises this:
As well as short passing accuracy, I have included passing in own half, as this will exclude excessively long punts towards the strikers, but will still include some long passes (as a long pass in statistical terms only needs to be 25 yards or more).
We can see that Pepe clearly has a superior edge in passing ability, but then at the same time, due to the tactics employed by Sunderland in his time there, Mignolet clearly hasn’t had much opportunity to prove if he can pass or not.
In his three season on Wearside, the Belgian has only attempted 55% as many short passes in total as Reina did this season alone, and similarly only 66% as many passes in his own half. The combined managerial talents of Steve Bruce, Martin O’Neill and Paulo Di Canio clearly like their keeper to launch it at every opportunity.
Ultimately though, the passing stats Mignolet has assembled in England to date do not suggest he can play out from the back with the confidence that Reina can, and that would remain a concern if the Sunderland keeper moved to the Red half of Merseyside.
The other thing to consider, and which statistics can not analyse, is the pressure; every mistake Mignolet has made will not have been as heavily scrutinized as those clangers that Reina has dropped, and as many players have sadly shown in the past, the Liverpool shirt is a heavy one that can prevent previously good footballers from performing at their optimum level.
But I think the main thing to take from the above figures is that Reina appears to be in decline, whilst Mignolet is improving, with age and experience. By the end of August, the Sunderland man will only be 25 whilst Reina will be 31; young in goalkeeping terms perhaps, but is he too old to fully reclaim the fantastic form he once had?
My ideal scenario would be that Reina remains at Anfield and continues the upturn in form that he displayed during the second half of the last campaign, as I’ve not seen a better goalkeeper (when on top form) in my time supporting the Reds. But if he does leave and Mignolet comes in, the above stats mean I won’t be as distraught as I assumed I would be.
Related posts you might like:
Replacing Reina – A combination of save percentage and short passing accuracy suggests a Swan might be the best realistic replacement for Pepe.
The Truth About Pepe Reina’s Errors – A stat regarding Reina that is doing the rounds on Twitter is way off the mark.
Rodgers Requires Reina – Pepe’s passing stats show what he offers that Jones can not.
The Decline of Pepe Reina – The Spaniard’s save percentage has been on a downward slope since his first season…