Not content with having broken the transfer record for a defender barely six months ago, Liverpool are now on the verge of making Roma shot-stopper Alisson Becker the most expensive goalkeeper of all time. Their £66.8million offer, which has been accepted, will double the previous benchmark.
The No.1 jersey has been a problem position for a number of years for Liverpool, going all the way back to the first beginnings of Pepe Reina’s decline. That has been exacerbated under Jurgen Klopp’s reign. First there was Simon Mignolet, who was described as ‘worse than Dracula’ at dealing with crosses by Bruce Grobbelaar.
The Belgian was eventually replaced in the side by Loris Karius, but the former Mainz keeper’s time at Liverpool has already been defined forever by one half of football in Kiev. Liverpool needed an unflappable, undisputed No.1, a world-class talent to show they really mean business. They have found him in Alisson.
WHY DID KARIUS NEED REPLACING?
Karius committed an error leading to a goal every 990 minutes in the Premier League (Picture: EPA)Liverpool had just one real weakness last season: Karius. The German is by no means a bad goalkeeper, but in a sport that is decided by the finest of margins he made enormous, career-defining errors that cost his side both domestically and in Europe. His confidence has been in tatters ever since.
As much as Klopp may insist he still has faith in his compatriot, and despite subsequent medical tests revealing he was suffering from concussion when he committed those instantly infamous mistakes in the Champions League final, Liverpool’s campaign next season was already feeling as though it might be overshadowed and dominated by Karius’ performances.
Klopp on the scrutiny Karius will face this season
‘Yes he could have made that save even though the shot was not easy to deal with. I’ve seen this situation 500 times at least in my life – ‘Bam’, against the chest, [ball] going down. Now Loris concedes that goal but we cannot start the story always after each mistake. Mistakes will happen. I don’t like it, you don’t like it, he doesn’t like it, but they do happen. So let’s carry on and make the best of all these situations to learn from it.’
Every mistake, no matter how small, magnified; any analysis accompanied by footage of the German rolling the ball to Karim Benzema, or being deceived by Gareth Bale’s shot; Klopp continuously being asked to defend his No.1. It started already in pre-season when he spilled a shot against Exeter.
Asked about the scrutiny he faces, Klopp said: ‘Yeah, it will probably happen for a while until he has a few fantastic games. That is how the situation is.’ But committing to rebuilding the wounded psyche of a player who is not, and will likely never be, world-class feels like wasted energy – particularly when you can sign a legitimate superstar…
WHAT MAKES ALISSON SO GOOD?
Alisson conceded seven times in two semi-final legs against Liverpool (Picture: AFP)Just a few months ago, Liverpool did not think Alisson was a realistic target. Roma were ready to charge a ‘Salah tax’, such was their frustration with how cheaply the Merseysiders had landed a player that scored 44 times last season, while Real Madrid seemed to be frontrunners for Alisson’s signature. But when the opportunity arose to sign him, Liverpool pounced.
After initially playing understudy to Wojciech Szczesny at Roma, the Pole’s departure allowed Alisson to take the No.1 shirt in the Italian capital. Manager Eusebio Di Francesco, who arrived that same summer, saw his potential straight away, remarking: ‘I was stunned by his presence and the calmness he brought to the entire team.’
Save percentage 2017/18 (all comps)
Alisson77%Loris Karius65%Simon Mignolet57%
Alisson is a formidable sight between the sticks, possessing a huge frame and lightning-quick reflexes, and he frustrated plenty of Serie A strikers last season. According to Opta statistics, Alisson made the second most saves of any goalkeeper in Europe’s top five leagues last season, while his save percentage (79.3%) was behind only Manchester United’s David de Gea (80.3%) and Atletico Madrid keeper Jan Oblak (82.7%).
More impressively still, based on Expected Goals (xG) – a metric that assesses the quality of chances created and conceded – Alisson conceded 10 fewer goals than would have been expected relative to the quality of chances given up. Only De Gea tops that, with a 13.8 difference between xG conceded and actual goals conceded. He did not commit a single error that resulted in a goal, either.
PART SHOT-STOPPER, PART PLAYMAKER
Alisson is a thoroughly modern goalkeeper with excellent passing skills (Picture: Getty)As good as Alisson is with his hands, the past few years – and particularly Ederson’s displays for Manchester City last season – have underlined the need for goalkeepers to be good with their feet too. Pep Guardiola quickly saw a need to sign a player who was in tune with his side’s passing philosophy, who could sweep up space behind an aggressively high line and even beat the opposition’s press himself.
New Chelsea boss Maurizio Sarri, who has himself tried to sign Alisson, summed up Ederson’s skillset perfectly when his Napoli side took on Manchester City last season. Asked to name the Premier League champions’ most dangerous player, he replied: ‘Ederson. I’m being serious, because their goalkeeper didn’t miss a single ball out from the back. He played 50 balls with the defence and got them all right, playing well through our pressing.’
Brazil coach Tite opted to hand Alisson the No.1 jersey ahead of Ederson (Picture: Getty)Alisson – who is ahead of Ederson in the Brazil pecking order and started all of the Selecao’s matches in Russia – does much the same thing. In fact, last season he successfully completed more passes (1082) than compatriot Ederson (928) and played the most accurate long balls of any player at Roma.
That composure and authority on the ball – that sense of serenity – was lacking for Liverpool last season, but Alisson offers both a barrier for stopping attacks, and a platform for starting them too. Throw in the fact that he’s one of the quickest, most alert sweeper keepers off his line, and suddenly £66.8m starts to look like a bargain for a player who both solves Liverpool’s biggest problem and creates new ones for the opposition to solve.
HOW WILL LIVERPOOL LINE UP NEXT SEASON?
While some clubs are still waiting to make a transfer – a penny for Mauricio Pochettino’s thoughts right now – Liverpool have swiftly addressed the problems that hurt them last season. A new goalkeeper, additional midfield competition, and new deals for some of their biggest stars. Liverpool now look a truly fearsome, title-worthy side, and Alisson’s arrival is the final piece of the puzzle. Just imagine if they manage to revive a deal for Nabil Fekir!