I’ve been wanting to write a post on Simon Mignolet for a while, with a particular focus on his passing as this is where the pro-Reina camp say he doesn’t match up to the illustrious Spaniard.
As the Belgian stopper logged 100% passing accuracy in his last run out at Fulham, this seemed as good a time as any to have a closer look at his distribution data.
The first noteworthy thing I spotted is that aside from Michel Vorm of Swansea (who averages 72.9% accuracy), no other goalkeeper in the English top flight this season has bettered Mignolet’s overall passing accuracy of 64.7%.
As much as his distribution gets criticised, it’s not as if there are too many better options out there (in the Premier League, at least). Perhaps as Liverpool fans we were spoiled by Reina’s fine passing?
For the purposes of this article, I shall be comparing Mignolet’s passing this season with Reina’s in 2012/13, so that both are playing under Rodgers. Firstly, let’s take a look at how the two keepers passing accuracy trends have gone.
Reina is ahead as you would expect, albeit it is clear that Mignolet is improving. However, when you look at the trend of what percentage of passes the stoppers have played long, you perhaps start to see why the Spaniard has the edge, and why the current Anfield custodian’s accuracy is on the rise.
Clearly this information isn’t surprising; a shorter pass will almost always be easier to complete than a long ball towards the opposition half, and the above graph certainly offers an explanation for why Reina has the higher pass accuracy.
So shouldn’t Liverpool be doing more to mitigate Mignolet’s distribution issue (as I suggested earlier in the season that they should)?
It actually appears that they are. I have split the 2013/14 season into two blocks of thirteen games, and plotted the same graphs as above.
The ‘long ball’ lines never cross, and neither do the passing accuracy lines, and the graphs illustrate how much shorter, and so obviously ‘better’ (or more accurate, at least) that Mignolet’s passing has become. The two spells break down overall like this:
First thirteen – 243 passes at 58.8% accuracy, with 57.6% long.
Last thirteen – 256 passes at 70.3% accuracy, with 50.0% long.
The last figures are particularly interesting, as they virtually match Reina’s efforts from the whole of last season: 71.1% accuracy, with 50.4% long.
The difference between the two thirteen game samples is perhaps best illustrated by the two passing maps below. Both games were at home, and both featured thirty-four passes by Mignolet, but the length of the pass is on the whole very different.
Mignolet’s long passing hasn’t particularly improved between the two games, it has just been needed far less often. It’s fair to note that the match on the left featured a pressing opponent whilst the match on the right did not, but I still think they illustrate that there’s no issue with the former Mackem’s short passing, so he simply needs better options and angles from his team mates
Regular readers will know that I compile pass combination heat maps after every league game, to see if any patterns of play or points of interest are revealed. I thought it would be interesting to make one purely for Mignolet, with each column representing a match this season.
It’s not possible to include the names of the other players involved, but for guidance the rows go (from top to bottom) from back four or five from right to left, then defensive midfielder, other midfielders and finally attackers (and then the subs).
With the knowledge that Mignolet has been playing a lower proportion of his passes long recently, it’s no surprise to see that there are fewer darker blocks towards the bottom of the chart as the season progresses.
We can also see that the keeper usually prefers to pass to the left centre back (as represented in the third row down). As he’s right footed, there’s no surprise there, but I wonder if the choice of which of the Reds’ two right footed centre backs has played on the left recently is impacted by this? I’d say Toure is more comfortable on the ball than Skrtel (not that he’s displayed it at key times lately!), so perhaps this is why Rodgers has elected to field the Ivorian on the left of the two. Just a theory, anyway.
As with all stats, context is everything. The numbers here don’t cover things like ability to pass when under pressure from opponents, or speed of release (which is particularly important for a counter attacking side like Liverpool). My gut instinct tells me that Reina is far superior in these aspects, and I doubt any of you would disagree.
But the figures demonstrate that Mignolet does have a very decent level of passing ability (far more than he was allowed to show at Sunderland), and Rodgers and his coaching staff deserve credit for improving him on this front.
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Solid Foundations – Whether Liverpool finish in the top four or not this season, I think they’re well set for another challenge next year, and here’s why.