Five years ago, this week, Simon Mignolet expertly saved Jonathan Walters’ last-minute penalty to deny Stoke City a point on the opening day of the 2013/14 Premier League season. After impressing enough at Sunderland during the previous campaign, Brendan Rodgers decided to make him his new man between the sticks, after Pepe Reina’s somewhat premature departure.
Rodgers’ decision seemed to be vindicated as his Liverpool side kept three clean sheets from their first three games, with Simon Mignolet proving pivotal in thwarting any chances of conceding a goal. Had Liverpool found a goalkeeper competent and good enough to be their long-term number one? Certainly not.
Mignolet’s exploits in the Premier League turned out to be exactly not what you’d hope to find in a keeper. His distribution was shocking, his decision making laughable, and his level of incompetence somehow impressively rubbish. I shan’t hesitate in saying that I have never, and will never, see another goalie make so many baffling decisions on a football pitch.
The Turn of the German:
After Jürgen Klopp’s appointment, Loris Karius was purchased for just €6m in the new manager’s first summer transfer window. I remember clearly, there was a certain buzz amongst the fans that this youthful German could well be one of Klopp’s famous bargain buys who turns out to be a player of real quality that could be part of the team that led us to a new era of success.
After a shaky start to his Liverpool career and a period of time in which he found himself on the bench, Loris Karius started to put in some impressive performances. He was assured in his ability and started to win over the Anfield faithful with several acrobatic saves towards the back end of last season. However, as we all know, this run of good form ended in the most calamitous of ways.
A New Era:
Concussion or not, a keeper’s chances of survival at a club, after single-handedly preventing his team from European glory, are very slim. Jürgen Klopp quickly realised that a new goalkeeper was an absolute priority after Karius’ horror show in the Champions League Final against Real Madrid. Who would be the man Klopp would turn to? The answer: Alisson Becker.
Half a decade ago, at the same time a certain lawyer-turned-keeper started winning the hearts of Kopites, the Brazilian was hardly featuring for Internacional in Brazil’s top division. So, how has he ended up at one of the biggest clubs in the world? Simple. He’s very, very good.
His move to AS Roma in 2016 enabled him to showcase his unbelievable talent to Europe’s elite. During the last campaign, for every goal that Alisson conceded, he made 3.41 saves. It will come as no shock to you when I say that he outperformed Mignolet and Karius comfortably, with them making 0.95 and two saves per shot, respectively. His statistics are comparable to the man many consider the best keeper in the world, David De Gea. The Spaniard made 3.46 saves per shot last season for José Mourinho’s side. So, it seems that Jürgen has bought himself a world-class shot-stopper.
Alisson? More like Alonso.
The best thing about Alisson’s phenomenal goalkeeping ability, however, is that it is coupled with some extremely encouraging statistics in terms of distribution. He completed 81% of his passes last season, 20% higher than his Spanish counterpart at Manchester United. On average, he totalled 20 forward passes per game at an average distance of 32 metres. These are not just simple passes to his center-halves. The Brazil international picks out his target with precision and finds them time and again.
While it is too early to call him a success at Liverpool, it is not too early to see what he brings to the team. Against Crystal Palace in Monday’s 2-0 victory at Selhurst Park, Alisson completed 91% of his passes, compared to The Eagles’ Wayne Hennessey’s 42%. He was the catalyst of so many quick breaks and relieved his defence of any pressure by accurately lofting the ball out wide to the two fullbacks, completing more passes than the likes of Mohamed Salah, Andros Townsend and Wilfried Zaha in the process. He is calmness personified and alleviates any impending danger with a simple swoosh of his right foot. Liverpool have now got the equivalent of Xabi Alonso sat behind the back four at all times.
Yes, Liverpool have finally replaced one of their best midfielders in the Premier League era in the shape of a deep-lying, play-making, goalkeeping genius. Who’d have thought it?