It was quite a day for Liverpool’s goalkeeping department. Their goalkeeping coach, John Achterberg, drew the Grand National winner, One for Arthur, in the club’s sweepstake, while, rather more importantly, Simon Mignolet made two world-class saves to ensure Liverpool are still favourites to make the Champions League come May.
After the 2-1 victory at Stoke secured by substitutes Roberto Firmino and Philippe Coutinho – “my half-ill, half-fit boys” as Jurgen Klopp called them – Liverpool have six hurdles to clear. None of them looks especially daunting.
For a man who began his Liverpool career by saving a penalty against Stoke in August 2013, Mignolet has had a hard job convincing their supporters that his goalkeeping ability met their ambitions.
Stoke has been Mignolet’s litmus test. In May 2015, in Steven Gerrard’s farewell game for the club, Mignolet conceded six. Here, he was superb.
“There was never a doubt that Simon is a top keeper,” said Klopp. “He is how goalkeepers are. He is very confident and this was a goalkeeper’s day. I cannot remember the last time he made a big mistake.”
Bringing in Loris Karius from one of his former clubs, Mainz, in the summer suggested Klopp had plenty of doubts. However, Mignolet seems to have seen off that challenge – Karius has not featured since the three disastrous days in January when Liverpool exited the League and FA Cups at home to Southampton and Wolves.
However, of the six teams challenging for the four Champions League places, Liverpool and Manchester City are the two who field the weakest goalkeepers.
The Liverpool manager argued that there are certain keepers, like Mignolet and Manchester City’s Claudio Bravo, who are judged solely on their errors. Once the media has made up their mind that a goalkeeper is world class, every mistake he makes will be accompanied by the adjective “uncharacteristic”.
“I was a few years in Germany when the whole world was 100 per cent sure Manuel Neuer was the best goalkeeper in the world,” said Klopp. “He made mistakes but nobody spoke about it. When you play at that level, nobody speaks about your mistakes.
“With all goalkeepers it is about the image. Simon is a fantastic, hard-working guy and this was his day. We also heard it was John Achterberg’s day so this was a day for goalkeepers.”
Klopp did not play down the importance of Liverpool’s comeback at Stoke. He admitted to feeling sick when Bournemouth scored their late equaliser at Anfield on Wednesday night.
Had Stoke held on to their first-half lead, Liverpool would have finished the day knowing that Arsenal could afford to lose one of their three games in hand and still overtake them.
Now their six games left pitch them against opposition ranging in difficulty from West Bromwich Albion to Middlesbrough, who will probably already be relegated when they come to Anfield on the season’s final afternoon. In the equivalent games earlier in the season, Liverpool won four and drew two. A repeat of those results will see them back among the European elite.
Klopp knew he was taking a gamble by leaving the Brazilians on the bench and starting with Divock Origi and 17-year-old Ben Woodburn. But it paid off as spectacularly as any Grand National bet.
“My life is about making decisions,” said Klopp. “Some of them are good and some of them are not. If we had lost 1-0, the whole world would have said: ‘what have you done?’”