Throughout a turbulent last 3-4 years for Liverpool Football Club, the position of goalkeeper has often been the one component of the team that fans could be confident was sorted for years to come.
While the defence has often been chopped and changed (particularly in the fullback areas), the midfield torn apart after the losses of Mascherano and Alonso and the attack weakened by the sale of Fernando Torres, we’ve never had to worry about the man between the sticks.
That’s because since he was brought in by Rafa Benitez from Villarreal in the summer of 2005, Pepe Reina has been arguably the best keeper in the Premier League and consistently one of LFC’s standout performers.
After a turbulent start to his Anfield career, in which his ability to deal with England’s famed ‘hustle and bustle’ was questioned, Reina soon came into his own. In the process of winning three Golden Gloves awards on the bounce he became not just a key player, but a leader on the pitch.
At one point Reina’s half-hearted, limp-wristed attempts to make saves [against Arsenal] would have come as a shock to the Kop but now it seems as predictable as Luis Suarez fluffing a sitter or Stewart Downing failing to beat his man.
Considering his stellar form over so many years, the club success of his international teammates and Liverpool’s diminishing relevance at the top-table of the game, it’s something of a surprise that Reina has remained with LFC for so long.
While most goalkeepers are known to reach their peak in their mid-to-late thirties, Reina has enjoyed a rich vein of form throughout his late twenties and with the possibility of another 10 years at the top, Liverpool no doubt expected that one day they’d have to say goodbye to their Spanish stopper.
But while in his earlier days at the club he was unfairly criticised, despite being one of the club’s best performers, here Reina has endured a reversal in fortune over the last 18 months, with his reputation as one of the league’s top goalkeepers masking the fact that he has become more and more of a problem for Liverpool as every game passes.
Sunday’s clash with Arsenal saw Liverpool easily beaten with both goals of a calibre that you’d expect a top-class keeper to save. At one point Reina’s half-hearted, limp-wristed attempts to make saves would have come as a shock to the Kop but now it seems as predictable as Luis Suarez fluffing a sitter or Stewart Downing failing to beat his man.
Reina is still a massive name in world football and with the club struggling to attract top players as it is, selling such a player wouldn’t send out a good message after the loss of several senior pros this summer.
The team’s consistent failure last season to convert chances into goals somewhat masked Reina’s poor form, as critics’ attention fell on the likes of Andy Carroll and Jordan Henderson, but after a certain amount of time it became obvious to even the most ignorant of fans that Reina was playing badly and it’s got to the point now where it may even be too kind to call this a blip.
The question is then, what next for Liverpool and Reina?
While in the past Liverpool could have expected to easily be able to attract a host of £20m bids for Reina, they are now facing the prospect of potentially letting him go out of choice which brings with it a host of problems.
Many put [his loss of form] down to the loss of goalkeeping coach Xavi Valero, who oversaw Reina between 2007 and 2010, who left after the sacking of Rafa Benitez.
For one thing, if Liverpool are not able to receive more than £10-15m for Reina then is there any point in selling? Keepers such as Michel Vorm, who at his peak will never be as good as Reina once was, but who could come in and do a much-better job than the Spaniard has done recently, would cost a similar amount so reinvesting any fee on a replacement would be a difficult prospect.
But there are more than just on-field issues to think about here. While he is currently experiencing the worst run in his Liverpool career, Reina is still a massive name in world football and with the club struggling to attract top players as it is, selling such a player wouldn’t send out a good message after the loss of several senior pros this summer.
So perhaps the club should instead be asking why Reina is playing so poorly and how he can get back to his best?
Many put it down to the loss of goalkeeping coach Xavi Valero, who oversaw Reina between 2007 and 2010, who left after the sacking of Rafa Benitez. While it would be easy to put Reina’s troubles down to the loss of Valero, there has been a drastic change in his game since his countryman’s exit, both in terms of shot-stopping and his famed distribution.
Reina can improve individually of course, but if the midfield closes down attackers in between the lines more quickly and our attackers were to put away their chances it would relieve a lot of the pressure on our number 25.
Bringing Valero back to Anfield seems a relatively simple solution though, so it’s important to look at other factors as well.
Liverpool’s failure to convert chances means that Liverpool can very rarely be sure of winning a game and that puts a certain amount of pressure on the defence and Reina not to concede, and with the irreplaceable Lucas again on the side-lines it’s likely that opposition attacks will continue to find spaces in and around our back four.
It’s a team effort. Reina can improve individually of course, but if the midfield closes down attackers in between the lines more quickly and our attackers were to put away their chances it would relieve a lot of the pressure on our number 25.
Reina is proven class and having just turned 30, LFC would be wise to keep the faith and not let go of him just yet. Quality goalkeepers are hard to come by these days, especially ones as good with their feet as Pepe, so let’s hope he finds some confidence and form soon, because otherwise we’ll have yet another position that needs filling.
And as we’ve learned over the past few days, money for top-class replacements doesn’t grow on trees. At least not in Boston anyway.
You can follow Matt on Twitter at @_Mapeke
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