Alisson Becker: The perfect Liverpool goalkeeper
When Liverpool spent €75 million on Alisson Becker in July 2018, more than a few questions were raised. After all, the Reds had been haunted by goalkeeper problems since head coach Jürgen Klopp's arrival in 2015, and they had just put their faith in a guy who only had one full season of European club football under his belt. Not to mention the fact that they broke the then-transfer fee record for a goalkeeper to do so (Chelsea have since one-upped them with their €80 million signing of Kepa Arrizabalaga).
Six months later, and it's fair to say Alisson Becker is looking like the signing of the season.
Liverpool used to be mocked for their bad business decisions. In 2010, the Reds signed Joe Cole, Paul Konchesky, Christian Poulsen, Raul Meireles, Brad Jones, Milan Jovanovic and Danny Wilson. Only Jones remained at the club for over a year, and he mainly served as a back-up/third-stringer. In 2011, Liverpool shelled out big bucks on Charlie Adam, Stewart Downing and Andy Carroll. They paid the club back with a combined 11 league goals. A few years later, the €82 million they received from FC Barcelona for Luis Suarez was spent on the likes of Christian Benteke, Mario Balotelli, and Rickie Lambert, only one of whom scored double digit figures (Benteke's 10 goals in 42 games).
Under Jürgen Klopp though, Liverpool have become one of the best clubs at snagging talents. Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane, Virgil van Dijk, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Georginio Wijnaldum and Naby Keita are just some of the names the Reds have brought in under the German's guidance.
And Alisson Becker caps it all off.
He may have been pricey for a goalkeeper, but Liverpool are confident he's the key to sustained success. So far, he hasn't let the club down, with performances against the likes of Chelsea and Napoli cementing his place among 2018's best goalkeepers. But what is it about Alisson that has translated so well for Liverpool? It all has to do with the stability and two-in-one style of play he has provided.
Big money, big moments
Going into the 2018 Champions League final, Liverpool's Loris Karius was statistically one of the competition's best goalkeepers. He led all goalkeepers in clean sheets with six, and he made a total of 27 saves, an average of 2.07 per game.
But then, in the final...
The 2018 Champions League final was a synopsis of Karius' time with Liverpool. Although he had his shining moments, he was always vulnerable to an oopsie at the worst possible time. He never looked confident in himself, and he certainly didn't make the Liverpool faithful feel that way. Unsurprisingly, with their team on the brink of greatness, they demanded they're goalkeeper be replaced in the off-season.
€75 million later, Alisson Becker arrived.
Despite only having one full European season under his belt prior to his Liverpool transfer, Alisson Becker has proven to be a far more reliable option than Karius. His athletic build aids in his jumps and dives, while his acrobatic style gives him that extra something special when it comes to making unorthodox saves.
Like his approach, Alisson exploded onto the Italian club scene in 2017. After spending a season backing-up Wojciech Szczęsny at AS Roma, the Brazilian one-upped his former teammate with an incredible 2017/2018. That season, he kept 17 clean sheets in 37 Serie A matches for the Romans, one of the best returns in the league. He also conceded a mere 28 goals; about 0.76 goals per league game. This is made even more incredible by the fact that, according to the expected goals conceded model (which predicts how many goals the average goalkeeper would've allowed given the quality and quantity of shots a specific goalkeeper faced), the average goalkeeper would've conceded 36 goals. Statistically, Alisson saved eight more goals than he should've.
His success with AS Roma has stuck with him in Anfield. This season, Alisson Becker has conceded just 10 league goals, six less than the next best goalkeepers (Hugo Lloris and Kepa Arrizabalaga). His goals against average sits at 0.48, making him the only Premier League goalkeeper with a GAA of under a goal every two games. He's kept 12 clean sheets, two more than any other goalkeeper, and his save percentage of 82.5% is the second highest across the top five European leagues (bested only by Nice's Walter Benitez, who has a save percentage 82.8%, albeit in six less games).
Of course, stats can be deceiving. Loris Karius was statistically the best goalkeeper in the Champions League last season, and we all know how that turned out for him. But unlike Karius, these statistics have translated into on-field success for Alisson. His play has helped him (and Liverpool) power through positive league results against Tottenham (2-1, September 15), Chelsea (1-1, September 29), Manchester City (0-0, October 10), Manchester United (3-1, December 16), and Arsenal (5-1, December 29). Furthermore, until January 3, he had not conceded more than a goal in a single Premier League match, and his consistent performances helped Liverpool to a 20-game unbeaten streak to start the season.
His performances have also aided Liverpool continentally. When Liverpool were drawn in a Champions League group along with Paris Saint-Germain, Napoli and Red Star Belgrade, doubts were raised over the probability of the Reds' survival. These doubts grew stronger on the sixth and final group stage matchday. With Liverpool three points behind Napoli for the final knockout round qualification spot, the Reds hosted the Italians in a do-or-die match. A loss or draw would guarantee Liverpool's elimination, but a win would see them leapfrog Napoli for second. Liverpool held a 1-0 lead going into the game's final minutes, but suddenly, Napoli's Arkadiusz Milik found himself free in Liverpool's box. With the game on the line, Liverpool's fate was in Alisson's hands.
Seven months after Loris Karius spilled Liverpool's Champions League dreams, Alisson Becker saved them from the clutches of doom. It's moments like these the Reds spent the big bucks on Alisson for, and it's in moments like these he'll continue to deliver.
The first attacker
In the 20th century, goalkeepers only had one job; to stop shots. They served no use in the offensive aspects of the sport and they most certainly never involved themselves in build-up plays.
Disgusted with the uselessness of goalkeepers outside of their box, the late Johan Cruyff set out to change that. He boldly stated that in his teams, "the goalie is the first attacker," and his philosophy led to the later development of ball-playing goalkeepers like Edwin van der Sar and Victor Valdes. It also kick-started a shift in how coaches used the men between the sticks.
Head coach Jürgen Klopp has since bought in to Cruyff's ideology. Ahead of Liverpool's January 3 clash with Manchester City (which ultimately ended 2-1 in favour of the Citizens), the German spoke about Alisson's dual role as both a goalkeeper and an attacker.
“They all have their specific importance, for sure, but Ali is not only the goalkeeper," he told Liverpool's official website. "He is an outfield player as well and that helps of course.”
To Klopp, bringing in Alisson from AS Roma wasn't just about putting a reliable save-bot in the sticks. If that was the case, he could've found multiple other options on the market, many significantly cheaper. No, what Klopp wanted was an 11th attacker; one who was confident under-pressure, creative in the offensive build-up, and unafraid to take high risks. And only in Alisson did he find those traits.
Alisson is far from a traditional goalkeeper. He loves to take opponents on, a positive side-effect of playing for Brazil. He's quick but calm with his decision-making, and that has allowed him to develop into one of the best ball-playing goalkeepers in modern football.
Last season, he led all Serie A goalkeepers with 51 sweeper clearances. He also completed 1,125 passes, more than any other Serie A goalkeeper bar AC Milan's Gianluigi Donnarumma. He also completed seven of seven dribbles he attempted in all competitions; a 100% return
With Liverpool's high defensive line and counter-attacking style, Alisson has had his fair share of moments to show off his tactical brilliance. Take the build-up to Mohamed Salah's penalty in Liverpool's 5-1 win over Arsenal in late December 2018. With the Reds up 3-1 and Arsenal caught in Liverpool's half, Alisson spotted a wide-open Roberto Firmino near the halfway line. With pinpoint accuracy and perfect ball-pace, Alisson delivered a stunning pass to his Brazilian teammate, who then exploited the space left by the Arsenal defence to find Salah in the box. Salah was fouled by Sokratis and eventually converted the penalty for the 4-1 lead.
In this play, we saw Alisson the outfield player. Rather than taking his time for a nearby option to open up, Alisson spotted the deep space Arsenal had left in their half and picked out Firmino with a cutting long-ball. With the Reds up 3-1 and the first half minutes from ending, he could've kept possession of the ball and eaten away at some time, like what most goalkeepers would've done. But Alisson saw the potential for a fourth goal, and to satisfy his hunger for more, he played the ball long and kick-started Liverpool's counter.
For Jürgen Klopp, it's these plays that make Alisson's €75 million price tag worth every penny.
It may be premature to call Alisson's transfer one of the best goalkeeper signings in recent history. After all, he's only been a Liverpool player for six months, hardly enough time to make some sound judgements. But the potential is there. He's adapted well to the rigors of the Premier League, and the pressure of playing in a market like Liverpool's has had no negative impact on his style. He's still the risky yet reliable two-in-one goalkeeper the Reds thought they were buying in the summer, as well as the final piece in Jürgen Klopp's jigsaw puzzle of a potential contender.