Alisson Becker's heroics for Liverpool has teammates purring with appreciation
Late save against Napoli and consistent performances have set the side up to be in last 16 of Uefa Champions League and top of the Premier League
Some of the best things can have inauspicious beginnings. On Alisson Becker’s first Uefa Champions League appearance at Anfield, he conceded five times in 35 minutes as Roma were eviscerated by Liverpool.
On his most recent, he took last season’s finalists into the last 16 with a second extraordinary save in as many home games.
For Everton’s Andre Gomes, denied by a remarkable point-blank block, read Napoli’s Arkadiusz Milik, whose injury-time shot seemed certain to produce an equaliser that would have sent the Serie A side through at Liverpool’s expense.
“Alisson was there to do his job,” said a deadpan Virgil van Dijk who, a few yards away, had perhaps the best vantage point. But the Dutchman added: “You saw my reaction.” And, when play stopped, he had rushed to hug the grounded goalkeeper.
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“Unbelievable,” said James Milner. “I have no idea how he can make a save like that,” added Jurgen Klopp who, with his usual ability to produce a memorable quote, called it “a life saver” and said that, if he had known how good Alisson was, he would have paid twice as much. As it is, his £65 million (Dh330.3m) fee, briefly a world record for a goalkeeper, is looking well spent.
An exceptional save was not an anomaly. “He did it almost every match,” reflected midfielder Gini Wijnaldum. “Someone is through on goal and you think they are going to score and then Ali is there to make a save. If the one against Everton had gone in, no-one would have blamed him but he saved it.
"Against Napoli also it was difficult to stop that ball but he managed it. Because we know more about Alisson we have a lot of clean sheets and the saves he makes are really crucial, the moment he makes the saves and how he makes the saves wins us games.”
They have been match-turning stops; without them Liverpool would not be top of the Premier League or still in the Champions League.
The ever loyal Wijnaldum insisted he and his team-mates had confidence in Simon Mignolet and Loris Karius, but if two of Liverpool’s European games in 2018 have been defined by goalkeepers, one was the German’s harrowing final against Real Madrid and the other the Brazilian’s triumphant display against Napoli.
They symbolise the upgrade. Alisson’s clean sheet on Tuesday was Liverpool’s 12th of the campaign, equalling their total for the whole of the 2013-14 season. That defensive improvement highlights Van Dijk’s impact, though the £75m centre-back noted: “It starts up front.” Wijnaldum elaborated: “We defend better as a team.”
Yet it is undeniable that Liverpool’s summer investment in Alisson has been transformative. Over the previous two seasons, the Mignolet-Karius job share gave Liverpool the 19th best save percentage in the Premier League, a mere 64 per cent. This season, Alisson boasts the best, at 86 per cent.
Sunday’s meeting with Manchester United pits the kings of expected goals against each other. Alisson has only conceded six league goals this season, outperforming the xG stat by 5.14.
Last season, David de Gea saved United 13 goals, according to the new measure. If Alisson has elevated Liverpool, De Gea has been on an extended damage-limitation exercise.
United still sit 16 points behind their historic rivals in sixth. “Everyone can have a bad season,” reflected Wijnaldum. “The year before I came, Liverpool finished eighth so those things can happen. It doesn't mean they have a bad team: they have good players, a good manager, and they know how to manage games.”
Aided by the last line of their defence, Klopp’s side have done it better. Van Dijk said: “It’s a great time to be a Liverpool fan or player.”
Updated: December 13, 2018 07:22 AM