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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 12 December 2018

Tale of two keepers: Arsenal's Cech stuck in past, Alisson's future promising at Liverpool

John McAuley compares the week that was for two Premier League keepers – one a veteran, the other up-and-coming

Arsenal's Czech goalkeeper Petr Cech has a stellar record in the Premier League. AFP
Arsenal's Czech goalkeeper Petr Cech has a stellar record in the Premier League. AFP

Alisson Becker was made to pay; Petr Cech was not.

One goalkeeper’s error led to a concession; the other’s a reprieve.

Both elected not to punt, opting instead for what has become the fashionable approach, but only one was punished.

Alisson indulged against Leicester City on Saturday. Robbed of the ball on his byline, his error cut Liverpool’s two-goal advantage in half. Yet his team held on for the win, and their 100 per cent record remained intact.

Cech got away with it, too. The Arsenal captain erred not once, but twice, in the opening seven minutes at Cardiff City on Sunday. The second presented Harry Arter a golden opportunity to strike the first blow. To Cech’s relief, the midfielder miscued. Just like Liverpool, Arsenal went on to take the points.

That neither goalkeeper’s mistake was particularly damaging does not mask a complacency and a carelessness that could prove costly. To his credit, Alisson apologised almost immediately, insisting he was “not arrogant enough not to learn from” it.

A week earlier, Jurgen Klopp watched Alisson’s audacious chip against Brighton and subsequently joked that he needed to grow accustomed to having a first Brazilian goalkeeper on his books. A second heart-in-the-mouth moment hurt somewhat. Only three months, after all, have passed since Loris Karius and the Uefa Champions League final.

As expected, Klopp defended the current incumbent. As he promised, Alisson will learn from the experience.

At 24, and for a brief spell last month the world’s costliest goalkeeper, the summer signing from Roma is rightfully rated among the best in the world in his position. In four Premier League matches this season, Liverpool have conceded once.

A supreme shot-stopper, Alisson is strong with his feet also, Saturday’s aberration aside. He is part of the game’s new breed of goalkeepers: technically proficient, able to sweep behind the defence, or launch an attack with a penetrating pass.

Similarities with Ederson, his international deputy and No 1 at fellow title-chasers Manchester City, are obvious.

In that regard, Cech lags some way behind. He and Alisson are men at opposite ends of their careers. Where the latter is carving his in England, the Arsenal goalkeeper has long been considered one of English football’s greatest ever custodians.

The quickest to reach 100 Premier League clean sheets (180 matches). The most clean sheets in Premier League history, with 201. Once, Cech went 1,025 minutes without conceding. In the 2004/05 campaign, he held firm in 24 league matches, still a record.

But the slew of unmatched marks came largely during a trophy-laden time at Chelsea. At 36, and having reached his professional twilight, Cech is being asked to remodel his game, to develop and to adapt.

A discomfort with distribution has led to uncomfortable viewing. Evident against Manchester City in their season opener last month, it has sustained.

Liverpool's Alisson Becker, centre, is likely to have a long career ahead of him. EPA
Liverpool's Alisson Becker, centre, is likely to have a long career ahead of him. EPA

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Seeking to stamp his imprint on post-Arsene Wenger Arsenal, Unai Emery has refused to compromise. The club’s new manager says he is determined to convert an old head. Like Klopp and Alisson, support has been supplied and patience preached.

But Cech’s “personality”, to use Emery’s phrase, is being tested, his progress slow. Still a sharp shot-stopper – Cech won the Golden Glove as recently as the 2015/16 season – the nerves and the near misses continue.

It has led to calls for Bernd Leno to be handed his chance. The German, another summer recruit, appears more attuned to Emery’s philosophy. Representing both the future and the present, Leno must be granted the opportunity to stake a claim.

Under Emery, Cech looks stuck in the past. Whereas Alisson seems set for a long and successful career at a leading English club, the sense is that Cech is moving ever quicker to the conclusion of his.

Emery’s insistence on building from the back could expedite his exit.