It may have taken Liverpool a staggering six games to secure their first Premier League victory last season, however Brendan Rodgers’ creative men managed to clinch all three points at the first time of asking in the opening fixture of the 2013-2014 campaign as the Reds overcame the challenge of Stoke City.
January signing Daniel Sturridge returned from injury to score the only goal of a lively game at Anfield, though the Merseysiders had debutant Simon Mignolet to thank for the positive result following his late heroics between the sticks.
A number of questions were asked when the Reds decided to sign the Belgian goalkeeper from Sunderland during the summer. Many supporters were unsure of whether Mignolet had been drafted in to provide competition for Pepe Reina, or whether his arrival would instead ease the Spaniard out of the club. In the end, Reina swapped Liverpool for Rafael Benitez’s Napoli on a season-long loan, leaving Mignolet as Rodgers’ first-choice goalkeeper.
Two crucial factors in the thinking behind this sudden change in the Reds’ net was the difference in ages and wages. At 25, Mignolet is five years younger than Reina, while the Belgian’s salary is thought to be considerably less than the reported £100,000 per week his Spanish counterpart was supposedly earning at Anfield. Liverpool’s absence from the Champions League has forced Rodgers into finding ways of cutting the wage bill. The former Swansea boss decided that Reina was a drain on resources and therefore dispensable.
This bold decision irked some supporters who had formed a special bond with the popular Reina since the Spaniard arrived on Merseyside in 2005. Not only was Reina a favourite with the fans, but he was also a hit with his teammates. In addition to this, Reina was a leader and more importantly a winner – thanks to his experience with the Spain national team. It was brave of Rodgers to show the established goalkeeper the exit.
Following Reina’s departure, there was always going to be a considerable amount of attention focussed on Mignolet, but the Belgian enjoyed a dream debut by keeping out Jonathan Walters’ late penalty to win several admirers and seal Liverpool’s first opening day victory since 2008. Reina won’t be forgotten easily at Anfield, but Mignolet’s save certainly helped his own cause.
In truth, a number of supporters had been questioning Reina’s performances over the last couple of years, with the general suggestion being that his form had dipped significantly. Should Mignolet manage to perform to a high level on a regular basis this season, then Rodgers’ decision to sign him will go down as a very good one. Only time will tell whether that turns out to be the case, but first impressions always count – and Mignolet certainly made an excellent first impression on the Anfield crowd on Saturday afternoon.
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