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Every now and then we like to get a little bit argumentative over a hot topic at the club, and for this little installment we turn to our goalkeeper. The game against Man City raised a few concerns about Simon Mignolet, and others remain happy with him. In the grand scheme of things though, is he underrated or overrated? The cases are made here...
Dan Williams: Mignolet Is Overrated
After last week's hiding to nothing in saying that Cattermole should have the captaincy taken from him, I fear I may be on to another here by criticizing our Belgian number one. However, I shall take encouragement from the fact that my Twitter feed does sometimes seem to indicate that not everyone is always convinced by Simon Mignolet, and that he has, in his short Sunderland career, made the Stadium of Light groan en-mass.
Of course, the initial problem that I have here is actually arguing that Mignolet is over-rated, when actually outside of Sunderland and the Belgian national team, no-one seems to ever rate him, at all. It's like we have a ghost between the sticks.
There is no denying that ‘The Mig' is a wonderful shot stopper, his quite incredible save against Wigan at the Stadium of Light a few weeks ago proved that, but that isn't to suggest that there aren't parts of his game that he could be seriously improved. Although I had reservations about him last season, and hoped that Craig Gordon might finally prove his fitness once and for all, he has impressed me, a lot, this term, and I honestly do think that he can go on to be our number one for years to come. But, comparisons to some of our iconic goalkeepers, such as Tommy Sorensen, are a little premature.
One of the most consistent complaints about Mignolet is his poor distribution, and a quick look at his stats on whoscored.com would back this up. He only boasts a 49% success rate with his passing this season, at an average of 18 per game, meaning that only nine times a game will he find one of his team-mates. As poor as that sounds, it's compounded when you take into account that half of the times that he has the ball in his possession, we concede it instantly. When you compare his success rate to that of the team below us, Liverpool, Pepe Reina boasts 73% - although that might have something to do with Brendan Rodgers ‘philosophy' - while Wigan's Ali Al-Habsi can even claim his is as high as 68%. Distribution 1-0 Mignolet.
Another common complaint would be the Belgian's positioning. Say what you like about a well-taken free kick, but Sunderland have conceded a lot of them in recent times, Kolorov's at the weekend is a case in point, while Ryan Taylor's in the derby last year also sticks in the memory. Where some goalkeepers can rely on their natural ability and athleticism to get them out of a hole if their positioning isn't up to scratch, it doesn't seem that Mig is among that group.
A trait that he also shares with his predecessor, Craig Gordon, is his apparent inability to command his area from high balls. While he isn't as timid as Gordon was at times, he certainly can't claim that he has the authority in there that the top goalkeepers have, and if you ask any defender in the world, they will tell you that it is vital in giving them the confidence to play well.
I am the first to admit that the Belgian has kept us in games this season, and kept the score down admirably at the weekend against Manchester City. He's been excellent, in fact, and one of our most consistent performers this term, but let's not get too carried away just yet. I have put my confidence in him by betting a friend that Sunderland will concede less goals than Manchester United this season, and hope that he improves on the areas of his game that aren't entirely up to scratch at the moment. But I also think that to claim he's the best goalkeeper in the Premier League (only the minority say so), or even as good as some as the players that we've had in the past are premature.
Simon Mignolet is a top talent, but the way some of our fans talk about his ability, means that, for now, the young lad is overrated.
Karl Jones: Mignolet Is Underrated
The past year has seen Mignolet's plus-points enhanced to the extent that his shortfalls are accepted as part of the current package. His shot stopping and reflexes have saved Sunderland on numerous occasions during that time - none more so than his brilliant block against Wigan Athletic. Now in his third season at Sunderland, those sceptical of Mignolet seem a vast minority.
Personally, I think the ‘rough edges' that his game has have been exaggerated; one of the many things the modern game has done has diluted the goalkeeper with a ‘presence'. Rightly or wrongly, keepers all over the world readily risk conceding by hurling themselves through a crowded area, their parachute is the knowledge that just the slightest of touches from an opposing player defuses the situation. That Mignolet has punched more times than any other Premier League goalkeeper this season indicates that when he leaves his line, he does so with intent.
The lack of effective distribution, initially, was tactical; many bemoaned the punt to the touchline, but aiming for Ahmed Elmohamady that often was no coincidence. His short passing does require improvement, and in Craig Gardner and Danny Rose, he now has full-backs both comfortable in possession and willing to make themselves available for a pass. He's arguably the bravest keeper in the Premier League, and it seems gone are the days of the defensive mix-up such as Seb Larsson's goal for Birmingham City against us two seasons ago.
Establishing himself as a constant in a defensive unit ripe for change -due to injury concerns of those in front of him - has been somewhat of an acid test. Craig Gordon's own injury problems and the period where Mignolet was forced to wear a protective mask may have seen a youngster with less mental fortitude crumble. Fortunately, that was not the case. Quite simply, Sunderland have an excellent, international-standard, young goalkeeper on our hands with scope to develop even further.