At Arsenal’s London Colney training ground last Thursday morning, the mood was high. There were smiles, giggles and laughter emanating from Brazil’s training session as they prepared to take on Uruguay in an International friendly in London. Despite not making the semi-finals of this summer’s World Cup, there is a lot of positivity around Tite’s Brazil squad – a mix of experience and talented youngsters has ensured that the Selecao remain unbeaten since the summer.
But on this rather mild and overcast late autumn morning, the eye was drawn to one area of the training pitch in particular. It was not towards Neymar and Gabriel Jesus exchanging dance moves, nor was it at Willian, Roberto Firmino and Richalison who were all taking turns juggling the ball. But rather it was towards goalkeeping coach Claudio Taffarel and those who had gathered around him, laughing, joking and competing.
Taffarel is a highly-thought of football man, having earned more than 100 caps for Brazil as a goalkeeper and winning the World Cup he is now dedicated to improving Brazil’s footballing talents in between the posts. Having always had a penchant for developing promising players, he is currently enjoying his role with the national team.
That in part is down to the talents that he finds himself surrounded by on the training pitch. Alisson and Ederson are currently regarded as two of the very best goalkeepers in world football. After years in which Brazilian goalkeepers have struggled to be accepted, especially in England, Brazil’s number one and two are doing their bit to change people’s perceptions.
“In Europe, people think Brazil can’t produce good goalkeepers,” Taffarel once said. “That is false,” and the three of them are proving it. The Brazilian goalkeeper always had an eye for innovation; they really exhibited extreme cases of risk and reward. But it is fair to say that other positions in Brazil took priority, until now.
Alisson and Ederson are making goalkeeping cool again. Not just from a Brazilian perspective but also worldwide. Having both moved to the Premier League in the past 18 months, they have respected but also advanced goalkeeping in England. They are a level above their fellow countrymen who have previously made the move; in many ways, Heurelho Gomes when he moved to Tottenham in 2008 only reinforced the then-stereotype of the Brazilian goalkeeper.
Now the Brazilian duo, the top two goalkeepers at the moment in the Premier League, are aiming to open the door for more Brazilian goalkeepers to get the opportunity to play at the highest level. However, despite the smiles and the genuine friendship that exists between the pair – they regularly go out for lunch in the north west when time permits – there is a strong sense of competition.
1994 World Champ Taffarel training Ederson, Wéverton & Alisson on their ball abilities.
Alisson's last 2 touches >> pic.twitter.com/zUEhm49HVt
— Seleção Brasileira (@BrazilStat) March 28, 2017
Alisson holds the number one shirt for the Selecao for now, mainly because he has spent more of his career playing in Brazil (three seasons with Internacional) compared to Ederson who moved to Portugal having never played a first team match in his homeland. Many believe that that is the advantage that Alisson currently has when it comes to Tite’s selection.
In terms of style, both are similar. The reason why Alisson and Ederson were brought to Liverpool and Manchester City respectively – beyond their goalkeeping acumen – was their ability to be the first line of attack. Their passing abilities were well known and are increasingly evident in the league. With accurate passing percentages of 80.28% (Alisson) and 86.43% (Ederson) their use of the ball when at their feet are vital ingredients to their teams style of play; these completion numbers were not even expected of Manchester United midfielders under Sir Alex Ferguson.
Playing for the top two teams in the league, though, does bring about its own challenges, and concentration is one of them. Having both played the maximum of 12 matches so far this season Alisson has only conceded six goals whilst Ederson has conceded one more – albeit two were penalties which he gave away. Alisson has also made more saves (25 compared with 19) and also has a higher save per goal ratio in the league (4.17 compared with 2.71). This may tell us more about the defensives line that sit in front of both goalkeepers, but it is clear that Alisson is edging it with regards to the statistics.
Alisson is highly adept to saving from close range and appears to be the calmer of the two, but both are capable of having a rush of blood to the head. Naturally, their effervescence is entertaining but can be nerve-wracking; they are symbolic of modern-day goalkeeping and looking at their average positioning in their penalty area only highlights the willingness to be closer to the edge of the area rather than the goal-line.
Perhaps the most telling statistic of how advanced Alisson and Ederson are, is the Expected Goals (xG) count against their teams. The figures of +2.52 for Ederson and +4.70 for Alisson highlight that given the quality of their opponents’ chances, it would have been expected that both City and Liverpool to concede more than the five what they have.
But for both, consistency is key, and it appears that they are continuing in last season’s form. Despite his impressive debut season for City, where he only conceded 26 goals, Ederson has still only made one appearance for the national team; and he himself has admitted that Alisson is “one step ahead’ off him. His courageous, energetic and confident approach in spite of his young age only stands him in good stead.
The here and now, though, are positive for both goalkeepers; sitting at the top of the table, unbeaten and having kept seven clean sheets each; the smiles at national team training were there for a reason. Amongst the diving and the saves, the catching and the passing, there is a respect. Times are changing and, irrespective of whether Brazilian goalkeepers always had the skills but lacked the attitude, Alisson and Ederson are proving Taffarel right because they have both.