Football: New safe pair of hands won't solve Liverpool's deficiencies at the back, says David James

Former Liverpool players David James (left) and Jari Litnanen in Singapore for media interviews on Nov 3, 2017.
Former Liverpool players David James (left) and Jari Litnanen in Singapore for media interviews on Nov 3, 2017. ST PHOTO: SEAH KWANG PENG

SINGAPORE - People have taken potshots at Liverpool's goalkeeper Simon Mignolet for much of this season, both on and off the field.

With his clanger in the Reds' 1-4 loss to Tottenham in the Premier League two weeks ago, the 29-year-old Belgian had set an unwanted record -for making the most number of defensive errors that have led to goals than any other league player - since his Liverpool debut in 2013.

While Liverpool followed up that loss with a 3-0 win over Huddersfield last Saturday (Oct 28), fans and pundits alike have been calling on manager Jurgen Klopp to drop his first-choice goalkeeper.

But former Liverpool custodian David James felt that criticism of the Belgium international has been "harsh", and replacing Mignolet will not help Liverpool's cause.

"If you have a diamond, and you haven't got the right fixing for the ring, the diamond is going to fall off. It is not going to work," the 47-year-old told The Straits Times at the Crowne Plaza Changi Airport hotel yesterday.

The former England international, along with former league stars Jari Litmanen, Phil Babb, Nigel Winterburn and Robert Pires were at Changi Airport in transit for a few hours yesterday, before flying to Indonesia for the Balikpapan Masters Cup on Sunday (Nov 5).

The quintet will return for the Battle of the Masters football tournament at the National Stadium next Saturday (Nov 11).

"When we bought Simon Mignolet, he was one of the highest-rated goalkeepers in the Premier League; when we signed Loris Karius he was one of highest-rated goalkeepers in the (German) Bundesliga."

Liverpool's defensive woes, according to James, lies in the communication between the defenders, an issue that should be solved on the training ground.

"When you have defensive issues, then the goalkeeper is going to be exposed, and it will be a very difficult position for the goalkeeper to do something that will not end up as a mistake," said James, whose nickname "Calamity James" came about as a result of his blunders during his seven-year career at Anfield.

"When people are all over the place, you (as the goalkeeper) end up trying to solve the problem; I've been there myself, and that is what Simon and Loris have been trying to do."

Litmanen, who played for Liverpool from 2001 to 2002, said "something" was missing from the current side, but could not point out a specific issue.

The 46-year-old former Finland international hinted that the Reds would not be able to compete with big-spending sides, such as Paris Saint-Germain, Manchester City and Barcelona, for good recruits in the January transfer market, even if Klopp wants to strengthen his side.

He said: "City were not happy (with their third-placed league finish) last year and Pep Guardiola bought three international full-backs (Benjamin Mendy, Kyle Walker and Danilo) for over €100 million (S$158.5m), I have never seen a club buy three full-backs at the same time.

"The manager was thinking of improving the team and money was not a problem... Klopp and his team are also thinking of how they can improve the team and what is possible on the market.

"Maybe they didn't have the possibility (of signing great players), or they didn't have the money, or the players were not interested in coming to Liverpool."

James acknowledged that he does not watch the Reds in training and thus has no knowledge of what Klopp does with the team.

But he added that communication and more training could alleviate Liverpool's defensive woes.

"The vulnerability from set plays and crosses, and bad positioning of defences - those are training issues," he said.

"When you have Saturday (league) games, you get three or four days in between to do some quality training.

"But when you chuck in European games or cup ties in the middle of the week, all of a sudden, you have just a day or two in training, and it gets more disruptive when you change sides for different competitions, meaning you have different players training together."

While some fans may rejoice at the fact that Liverpool are back in the Champions League this season, James believes that the Reds are better off without it, at least for now.

He said: "As a Liverpool fan, my priority would be (winning) the Premier League, and not the Champions League.

"Liverpool have won the Champions League, but they haven't won the Premier League.

"In essence, it (the Premiership) is the holy grail."

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