Brendan Rodgers does not know how to handle goalkeepers
The management of Liverpool’s goalkeeping situation has officially crossed from “bad joke” to “giant mess.”
For Liverpool’s high-stakes match at Manchester United, Brendan Rodgers elected to sit a struggling Simon Mignolet in favor of bringing in Brad Jones for his first start. Jones promptly gave up three goals, two of which should have been saved by an even halfway-decent goalkeeper. He’s since given up three other goals, arguably none of which should have been scored, and has at the best of times looked extremely shaky.
That leads some to wonder what Liverpool’s next move at goalkeeper would be. How long could Jones hang on as the starter before his lack of quality gets the better of him? Turns out — not long. About 15 more minutes, actually.
Then Burnley got their first dangerous shot off, a blast that cracked unluckily off the post. The real problem, though, was Jones barely reacted, despite the fact he could’ve easily gotten to the ball. It took mere seconds for Rodgers to prompt Mignolet to get his gloves on, and a minute later Jones was off the pitch.
Liverpool tried to claim that Jones had picked up a thigh injury, but you didn’t have to see that he wasn’t limping or indicating pain to know the truth: Rodgers’ complete inability to handle goalkeepers had struck again.
Mignolet got off to a hot start to his Liverpool career, but then gave up a couple soft goals to Manchester City and Chelsea. Then Rodgers started picking away at him in the media, saying over and over how Mignolet needed to do better, make less mistakes, becomes a better, more complete goalkeeper. You could almost watch the Belgian goalkeeper’s confidence erode under the constant sandblasting his manager was giving him in the press, a steady stream of “positive criticism” that continued over the summer and in to this season, leaving a once-promising goalkeeper as a quivering wreck who can’t even clear the ball properly half the time.
Rodgers simply doesn’t seem to know how to handle goalkeepers. Two years ago, Rodgers made similar comments about Pepe Reina. That relationship deteriorated to the point where Reina made it clear he wanted a move away. Liverpool then brought in Mignolet as an alternative in case Reina left, but Rodgers only made things worse during preseason, when he basically declared the newcomer as his starting keeper. The Spaniard then headed to Napoli on loan.
Reina may have gone to Italy, but he and Rodgers continued to trade barbs in the press. The relationship had fallen to pieces. Yes, Reina had tried to create a move away, but Rodgers had already been mishandling him, turning one of Liverpool’s most loyal players in to someone fighting to leave in a hurry. At first it seemed a mere blip in Rodgers’ Liverpool career, but now with his handling of Mignolet and Jones, a pattern is clearly emerging.
It’s quickly become obvious — painfully so for Liverpool fans — that Rodgers may not have any idea how to handle goalkeepers. It’s a position that requires confidence and surety, but instead of helping to build that up for his netminders, all Rodgers seems to be capable of is destroying it. It’s little wonder Victor Valdes turned his head at the chance to join Liverpool earlier this season, and it’s not hard to wonder how Rodgers might screw things up with his next goalkeeper.
Rodgers has drawn plenty of ire this season for the many mistakes he’s made, but his constant mishandling of goalkeepers may be his most grievous offense, considering the position is probably the most important to handle correctly. Kill your goalkeeper’s confidence, and your team will allow more goals. Allow more goals, and your job is at risk.