Friday, 14 February 2020

Alisson! is the Messi of goalkeepers

For the first time in a long while, Anfield fell silent.

Liverpool were cruising, 3-0 up inside half an hour and playing with freedom and swagger. And then Alisson Becker went down. It was an innocuous incident, the goalkeeper pulling up sharply after taking a goal kick in front of the Kop.

Immediately, the Reds’ medical team were summoned as the Brazilian clutched the back of his right leg. On the bench, Adrian, signed earlier that week, prepared for the most unexpected of debuts. Alisson left the field to a huge ovation, but in obvious pain and discomfort.

That was August, and the Premier League season was just 39 minutes old. Liverpool would beat Norwich 4-1, but the mood was one of apprehension. Even Jurgen Klopp admitted that Alisson’s injury had cast “a big shadow” over his side’s victory.

Despite the usual social media rumours of a ruptured Achilles, scans would instead reveal a torn calf muscle. Alisson would not play again until the 1-1 draw at Manchester United on October 20.

It is credit to Adrian, and to the brilliance of this Liverpool team in general, that they managed to negotiate that period in such style. Without Alisson, the Reds won all seven of their league matches, clinched the UEFA Super Cup and progressed in the Carabao Cup. Only Napoli, in the Champions League, bettered them.

Since his return, though, Liverpool have gone through the gears.

They are world champions now, into the last 16 of the Champions League and the fifth round of the FA Cup. They are 22 points clear at the top of the Premier League; that draw at Old Trafford remains the only time they have dropped points all season.

Alisson, meanwhile, has underlined his status as the league’s best goalkeeper. Incredibly, having not kept a clean sheet until December 7, he now has nine, placing him level at the top of the Golden Glove standings with Dean Henderson and Nick Pope.

Roberto Negrisolo, his former coach at Roma, once described him as “the Messi of goalkeepers”, and there are few at Anfield who would disagree. Liverpool knew Alisson was good when they signed him, but his form since has blown Klopp and his staff away.

“He makes the difficult things look easy,” says former Reds ‘keeper Chris Kirkland. “Everything he does is calm, in control. He’s the best in the world, for sure.”

The medals and the awards are piling up. Alisson won the Champions League last June and followed that up with the Copa America six weeks later. In August, he was named UEFA Champions League goalkeeper of the season, and the following month he picked up the FIFA Best Men’s Goalkeeper award. He finished 2019 with a key performance as Liverpool won the Club World Cup in Qatar.

“All you need is Alisson Becker,” Klopp joked after the semi-final of that competition, a late 2-1 win over Mexican side Monterrey. According to sources, he has been known to sing that song, to the tune of Queen’s Radio Ga Ga, around Melwood.

No wonder.

A glance at the stats shows just how big Alisson’s influence has been. The £65 million ($84m) Liverpool paid to Roma for the 27-year-old in 2018 already looks a bargain. Never mind the clean sheets, look at the underlying numbers.

Alisson, this season, is averaging 244 minutes per goal conceded – the best in Premier League history. He has saved 26 of the last 27 shots he has faced, with only Wolves’ Raul Jimenez finding a way past him in the league since November 23.

In terms of save percentage, he simply dwarfs his peers. Alisson’s stands at 86.96 per cent, better than Ederson (66.15%), Kasper Schmeichel (71.43%), David de Gea (69.15%) and Kepa Arrizabalaga (55.56%).

Alisson has saved almost 77% of the shots he has faced from inside the box this season – Ederson’s figure, by way of comparison, is 64.71%, while De Gea’s is 60.32 – and he is, remarkably, yet to be beaten from outside the area so far.

Impeccable with his hands, he’s pretty good with his feet too. He completed more passes last season than any other goalkeeper in the Premier League, and this time around his accuracy, 83.37%, is bettered only by Ederson.

Furthermore, he has been involved in the build-up to no fewer than five Liverpool goals – most memorably providing an assist for Mohamed Salah’s clincher against Manchester United last month.
His distribution and his calmness have allowed Liverpool to control games in a way they never could have done previously.

“He’s as good as anyone around,” says Ray Clemence, the most decorated goalkeeper in Liverpool’s history. “And he’s certainly the best we’ve had for many, many years.”

Soon, Alisson will follow in Clemence’s footsteps by becoming a league champion as well as a European Cup winner. When he does, his place in Liverpool history will be assured – if it isn’t already.

No comments:

Post a Comment