Agendas are set in the week’s football media by the most high-profile television pundits, especially when all eyes are on the solitary Monday night game. Jamie Carragher has built a strong reputation as one of the better analysts in broadcasting and this week his fire rained down on Leeds United’s defence.
Everyone got both barrels from the retired Liverpool defender, but Illan Meslier notably went under the microscope. Carragher’s opinion on Meslier’s performances, stature and suitability may be open to argument, but the statistics are stark for the 23-year-old goalkeeper.
It may well be, when he hits his peak in 10 years time, Meslier’s prolonged exposure to the best attackers in the world at such a young age will make him one of Europe’s best stoppers. The potential is undoubtedly there, as borne out by the France conversation swirling around him.
However, in the here and now, the numbers do not make pretty reading for the man picking up the pieces behind a leaking backline. Topping the Premier League’s goals conceded column is one thing, but the 191 goals Meslier has conceded since promotion is nearly 50 more than any other top-flight goalkeeper in the same period.
The Athletic pulled out Opta’s underlying numbers on this season too. Based on the shots on target Meslier has faced, he was expected to concede a fraction over 48 goals, when he has in fact conceded 60. Only Southampton’s Gavin Bazunu has performed worse in this regard.
The agenda inevitably turned to Meslier in Javi Gracia’s pre-match press conference on Thursday. However, the most telling answer came to a question about his faith in the team generally.
An earlier seed had been planted on the goalkeeper and Gracia was only too happy to take the conversation back to his under-fire goalkeeper. It seems clear the number one will reman his number one tomorrow.
“I believe in my players, but I don't believe because only I want to tell you now in front of you (the media),” said Gracia. “I believe because, from my first day, they showed me quality, the way they really want (have desire), the way they compete.
“In two games it doesn't change for me. I know we had two bad games or even the second part against [Crystal] Palace and the last game against Liverpool.
“I can I accept that, but in the rest of the games, we competed well. Some of them with losing, some of them winning, but we competed well.
“That's the right way for us. I believe in all my players. You asked me about the ‘keeper, you asked me now because we've conceded 11 goals and it is not fair to look at the ‘keeper when we conceded the goals, it’s not fair.
“When we concede, conceded all the team. When we score, scored all the team and it's something I want to say to give value to my players and especially all the ‘keepers we have in this moment we've conceded 11 goals.”
Changes away from the penalty box are to be expected tomorrow, however. Gracia would admit the team needs to see some intervention from him given what’s gone on in the last three halves they’ve played.
“I thought a lot because we need to change something,” he said. “We need to give something to the team because the team need it in this moment, to change something.
“It's something we spent time [on] this week, but after it’s easy because, at the same time, it's easy because if I choose some players or others, all of them, I am sure, will be a good selection.”