LIVER­POOL UN­COV­ERED

Si­mon Mig­no­let on Mane the dress­ing-room joker, prac­tis­ing penal­ties with Salah and los­ing his place to the best keeper he’s ever seen

Daily Mail - - Football - by DO­MINIC KING

LIVER­POOL suf­fered heart­break in Barcelona on Wed­nes­day night, but their quest to win the Premier League is still alive. It has been a re­mark­able cam­paign and, with 91 points on the board, they will chase Manch­ester City all the way to the line.

Ahead of tomorrow’s cru­cial trip to New­cas­tle, long- serv­ing goal­keeper Si­mon Mig­no­let told

Sports­mail the story of the sea­son from the play­ers’ per­spec­tive. The Bel­gian has been on the journey ev­ery step of the way, see­ing the highs and lows, and knows Liver­pool can still dream.

DREAM­ING BIG

AF­TER reach­ing the Cham­pi­ons League fi­nal last May, Liver­pool made four big sum­mer sign­ings gn­ings and en­joyed a fruit­ful startrt to the sea­son. The key mo­ment ment for the squad, though, was as the night Paris Sain­tGer­main came to town in Septem­ber and were taken apart.

SI­MON MIG­NO­LET: It all started so well. We had four vic­to­ries be­fore the first in­ter­na­tional break. When we came back wee then had Tot­ten­ham at Wem­b­ley and PSG at homeme in the Cham­pi­ons League, two of the best teams in the worl­dorld in quick suc­ces­sion.

We beat Spurs 2-1, then scored three against PSG and blew them away. If we could play like that against Edin­son Ca­vani, Ney­mar and Kylian Mbappe, why couldn’t we do it to ev­ery­one else? We knew, there and then, we didn’t need to be afraid of any­one.

We had a good run the pre­vi­ous sea­son but we knew peo­ple would won­der if we could sus­tain it. So that game was the bench­mark. That’s where it all started.

SQUAD UNITY

JUR­GEN KLOPP has em­pha­sised how well run Liver­pool’s dress­ing room is. Mig­no­let’s role may have changed over the last 12 months but he is an im­por­tant mem­ber be­hind the scenes and the in­clu­sive at­mos­phere has been cru­cial to main­tain­ing form.

SM: I’ve never been in a dress­ing room where there hasn’t been trou­ble at some stage. There’s al­ways go­ing to be some­thing where some­one doesn’t talk to some­one else or they don’t get on. But that isn’t the case with this squad. It’s been that way for a year. No­body is talk­ing be­hind any­one’s back, no­body has a grudge. Sa­dio Mane al­ways tries to be the joker but his jokes aren’t al­ways funny — peo­ple ended up laugh­ing with him, rather than at the joke he made!

There’s a lot of ban­ter go­ing on... Robbo (Andy Robert­son), Milly (James Mil­ner), Virg (Vir­gil van Dijk) — it comes from all sides.

WOR­RY­ING TIMES

IT IS easy to look at Liver­pool’s re­sults and think progress has been smooth, but that is not the case. Au­tumn brought some be­low-stan­dard league per­for­mances and poor re­sults in the Cham­pi­ons League. A 2-0 de­feat at Red Star Bel­grade was a line in the sand.

SM: Oc­to­ber and Novem­ber was a rough patch. We lost to Napoli away, drew with Manch­ester City at home, drew at Arse­nal and then lost to Bel­grade. Ev­ery­thing that could have gone wrong that night did go wrong.

The main thing that came out of it was doubt. The man­ager was so un­happy. We stayed over in Bel­grade and the big ques­tion we asked was: ‘Why are we do­ing this?’ It turned out to be a game we learned more from. We had to make sure it didn’t hap­pen in the Premier League.

DEFIN­ING DAYS

LIFT-OFF for Liver­pool came on De­cem­ber 2, when they dra­mat­i­cally beat Ever­ton 1-0 in the Mersey­side derby with an in­jury-time goal from Divock Origi. The vic­to­ries that res­onated most, how­ever, will come as a sur­prise.

SM: I don’t show my feel­ings a lot but when Divock scored I jumped off the bench! I was sat next to Adam Lal­lana and James Mil­ner and the noise in the sta­dium was in­cred­i­ble. That win was huge.

But I will pick an­other three out: Brighton away in Jan­uary. We had lost two games against Manch­ester City and Wolves, and the match was dead, no chances for ei­ther team. Then Mo (Salah) scored a penalty. A week later, we beat Crys­tal Palace 4-3. A crazy game but so, so im­por­tant. Those six points were mas­sive. One slip and it makes a hell of a dif­fer­ence. Then re­cently we had Cardiff.

Like Bel­grade, ev­ery­thing was set up there for us to fail. A dry pitch, 30- de­gree heat. What we did that day to win 2-0 made it one of our best per­for­mances.

MAG­I­CAL MO

SALAH has en­joyed an­other out­stand­ing sea­son and could well re­tain the Golden Boot. If he does, Mig­no­let will have done his bit to help.

SM: He sits next to me on the coach when we travel to games. He asks me about penal­ties and what ideas the op­po­si­tion goal­keeper will have. I’ll tell him he should do this or that. We prac­tise penal­ties the day be­fore a game and we work to­gether.

I try to do the same as the keeper he will face the next day, to make it as re­al­is­tic as pos­si­ble.

The big thing about Mo? He is a cult hero in Egypt. Peo­ple for­get how big a fig­ure he is in the Mus­lim world. We went to Dubai in Jan­uary for a train­ing tra camp and he was ev­ery­where. He’s like a statue.

He car­ries all that on his shoul­ders and he does it so well, like the pres­sure is noth­ing. He is down to earth, still the same guy as he was when he signed. Ev­ery­where we go there is at­ten­tion for him. When there are crowds around the coach shout­ing ‘Salah! Salah!’ we join in with them and make it funny.

But he has an ex­am­ple to give. He has got so much tal­ent but he works so hard to help.

PER­SONAL AN­GUISH

MIG­NO­LET has not played in the Premier League this sea­son. The £65mil­lion sign­ing of Alis­son Becker made him No 2 but he has blocked out any per­sonal dis­ap­point­ment. His at­ti­tude is so good that both Klopp and Mil­ner have high­lighted his role.

SM: Me and my mis­sus are building a house in Spain. I speak a few lan­guages and last year we de­cided to take Span­ish lessons. Then Ali came and I don’t need lessons any more as I speak Span­ish with him!

As a goal­keeper, you learn from the guys you work with. He is Brazil No 1 ahead of Eder­son. The main dif­fer­ence be­tween the two is that Ali is prob­a­bly bet­ter with his hands. He’s the most com­plete goal­keeper I’ve seen in my ca­reer. He is so calm.

Not play­ing is the hard bit, the feel­ing of be­ing on the pitch at the end when you’ve won is what I miss most. I un­der­stand how peo­ple who don’t play stop do­ing their work. That is why I push my­self ev­ery day. I get in the gym at 9am. The boys must look at me and think, ‘ What’s that id­iot do­ing there again?’

THE FI­NAL ACT

MIG­NO­LET was part of the last Reds squad who chal­lenged for the ti­tle, in 2014. What­ever hap­pens in the next week, he be­lieves this group have what it takes to be cham­pi­ons one day.

SM: The man­ager is per­fect for the club. His vi­sion and his char­ac­ter em­bod­ies what the fans live for. The style of play we have is what the sup­port­ers want, they want to see fire. They want to see Liver­pool push­ing, fight­ing.

It would be strange — and very frus­trat­ing — if we didn’t win any­thing, but the only thing that would stop it is the op­po­si­tion (Manch­ester City) be­ing so good. All credit to them if that is the case. The amount of points we’ve ac­cu­mu­lated would mean we are cham­pi­ons in a nor­mal year.

We’ve been through the process to get where we want to be and the squad have grown. We should get some­thing one day.

CHRIS NEILL

Un­sung hero: Mig­no­let has been a key fig­ure off the pitch this sea­son

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