Liverpool Tactical Analysis

In the end, it didn’t cost Liverpool, but it so almost did. It was no way to concede their first goal of the new season after three consecutive clean sheets in the league. But with increased risk comes greater chances of a negative effect, or for Leicester City, a positive one.

It was all going so well. Only seven days earlier, Alisson was proclaimed as an entertainer, showboating around Brighton & Hove Albion strikers like a Brazilian freestyler on the beaches of Rio de Janeiro. He had faced the fewest shots of any goalkeeper in the Premier League but impressed with his pinpoint distribution. In the mould of Manchester City’s Ederson, Alisson must have been thinking that this Premier League lark is a breeze.

Jurgen Klopp was content to indulge his record signing, “He didn’t do it for showing off, he did it to sort the situation – the chip was the right thing to do in that situation.” As it came off against Brighton there was a sense of exhilaration attached, but even then it was clear that one too many risks could lead to a major mistake. At the King Power stadium, it came.

Luckily for both Alisson and Liverpool it didn’t have a telling impact on the result, but the manner of the goal is more significant than the blemishing of Liverpool’s perfect record. Like the other three Premier League matches that Alisson has played in so far, it was all rather serene for the opening hour.

Leicester surprisingly dominated but struggled to muster any meaningful goalscoring opportunities. Alisson was mainly tasked with using his exceptional long-range passing, although he did have to get down low to stop a quick shot from Demarai Gray – showing his quick feet and agility to save with a strong hand.

In all honesty, it would be difficult to say with any certainty whether either of Loris Karius or Simon Mignolet would have made that save last season. Both goalkeepers have been sidelined because of the volume of their mistakes – and in Karius’ case, the severity of his mistakes against Real Madrid also led to a move away. But Alisson must make sure that he does not fall into an element of complacency that risks more mistakes like the one that gifted Leicester their goal.

Virgil van Dijk’s poor back-pass got the ball rolling, so to speak. The Dutchman who has brought serenity and robustness to Liverpool’s defence since joining in January, seemed slightly more flustered in the East Midlands. He was noticeably edgy and relied on the sureness of Joe Gomez alongside him at times. His pass was awkward, to left of the post and close to the touchline

Yet, Alisson had the opportunity to clear his lines, but he shunned it. With Kelechi Iheanacho bearing down on him, he resulted to performing a Cruyff turn back towards his own goal. Alisson ended up on his backside, and the ball in the back of the net thanks to a simple slot into the wide frame by Rachid Ghezzal. It was quite the first goal for Alisson to concede in a competitive match for his new club. It showed that his risk taking must be measured for it to be a positive to the team rather than a negative.

The best teams, the best players take risks; it is how they become the best. All to often it is down to an individual to take a risk but the reward must be worth it for it to be considered. Rarely, however, does that apply to goalkeepers who often keep it simple. Alisson’s risk taking verges on the stupidly needless and it is difficult to see the rewards that come from such nonchalance in the penalty area.

Whereas Klopp backed his goalkeeper last week, Alisson is unlikely to receive similar encouragement this time around. Even Alisson himself admitted when speaking to reporters after the match that the move was unnecessary and that there are few opportunities to be careless in and around the goal area in the Premier League. It was apparent that he had learnt his lesson.

Ultimately, all it cost Liverpool was their perfect defensive record and perhaps some needlessly-expended energy to get over the line where previously it would have been more a cruise. What it also brings is the opportunity for future opponents to target Alisson’s confidence when the ball is at his feet. The spotlight will be on him after the international break and he must show that he can cope.

To portion the blame in its entirety at the feet of Alisson would not be right. Klopp demands his goalkeeper to pass out from the back and he is one of countless modern coaches who focuses almost as much on a keeper’s attacking contribution as his defensive duties. But even in that moment against Leicester, Klopp was gesticulating that Alisson needed to clear his lines. When necessary, deviating from the brief is required; it is those on-field decisions that make a great player.

Pep Guardiola encouraged Ederson to stick to his guns and keep playing the ball out with his feet despite some nervy moments last season. But now there is a slight shift in how even Manchester City deal with the ball in the penalty area – slowly they have embraced a more ‘clearing when needed’ approach. Klopp and Alisson need to realise that their balance may have lurched to far from the traditional goalkeeping expectations.

A goalkeeper being comfortable with the ball at his feet is now a necessity across the European leagues; the back-pass rule has enforced it. But despite the need for goalkeepers to be involved in the play, there is still little need for the goalkeeper to be over-elaborating. Simply offering good passing angles and distributing over a variety of ranges should be enough. If you want to be playing that much football just outside of your own goal then there is something wrong.

Regular long ball hoofs may be a thing of the past but nevertheless, sometimes a clear mind in how to deal with a situation represents more skill than attempting the needless and careless. What Alisson will contribute to Liverpool – as already seen – will far outweigh what he doesn’t. But being a goalkeeper at a major club brings its own unique tests and dealing with such blips is one of them.

Conceding goals is never fun, especially that one after not conceding in over 330 minutes of competitive football, but it is part and parcel of the game. Not allowing the opposition any sniff in and around the penalty area is a major part of the defence’s job. There is beauty in simplicity, Liverpool are catching on, Alisson needs to start also.