Simon Mignolet on Mane the dressing-room joker, practising penalties with Salah and losing his place to the best keeper he’s ever seen
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Unsung hero: Mignolet has been a key figure off the pitch this season