When Liverpool announced what was then a world-record fee for a goalkeeper with the signing of Alisson Becker in July, their supporters rejoiced in the belief that they finally had a dependable netminder after less than convincing stints for Simon Mignolet and Loris Karius. The statistics of the Brazilian number one suggested that he boasted all the main attributes of the modern day goalkeeper – excellent shot stopper, commanding at set pieces and comfortable with the ball at his feet. It was those qualities which made Ederson, ironically Alisson’s backup in the Brazil squad, stand out for Manchester City last season as they romped to the title.
The new arrival at Liverpool made a positive start to his Reds career, impressing as Jurgen Klopp’s side won their first three games. They made it four in a row against Leicester on Saturday but the main talking point afterwards was not the preservation of the 100% start to the season. Rather, it was the awful misjudgement from Alisson which saw him easily dispossessed in the incident that led to Rachid Ghezzal’s goal to halve Liverpool’s lead, the first conceded by the Reds in 2018/19.
Shocking and all as the mistake was from Alisson, his early days at Anfield suggest that he is liable to take inadvisable liberties when in possession of the ball. Only last week, a clip of him casually chipping a Brighton player went viral. Had he got that wrong and gifted the Seagulls a goal, it would have cost Liverpool two points. He was a lucky man that his error at the King Power Stadium did not prove costly.
One thing I had noticed about the goalkeeper in recent games is his tendency to play the ball short and build slowly from the back, often preferring to stroke it to one of the defenders in front of him instead of going long to the midfielders or front three. Let’s look in more detail at his distribution in Saturday’s 2-1 win at Leicester to see if the statistics back up my thinking.
Alisson v Leicester: Two short passes for every long ball
The Liverpool keeper recorded 36 passes in total on Saturday and, taking a short pass to define any in which the ball travelled 30 yards or less, 24 of those were short, accounting for two out of every three. Of the 12 passes deemed to be ‘long’, one of those was a crossfield ball which didn’t transcend the halfway line. It isn’t all that long ago when such an aversion to going long would have been seen as criminal for a goalkeeper.
Alisson v Leicester: More than 50% of passes were in Liverpool’s third of the pitch
Let’s analyse the destination of Alisson’s 36 passes on Saturday in terms of dividing the pitch into thirds – Leicester’s, Liverpool’s and the middle. Twenty of his 36 passes were delivered to areas within Liverpool’s defensive third of the field, indicating that he has no issue with keeping the ball near his goal instead of clearing his lines and thinking safety first.
A further 14 passes were played into the middle third, meaning that Alisson kicked the ball into Leicester’s defensive third only twice across the 95 minutes of game time – and one of those was a 94th-minute free kick which he punted over the touchline in an attempt to lift the siege on Liverpool’s goal. Had he only done that half an hour previously, this would have been a far more comfortable afternoon for the Reds against a Leicester side who also gave Manchester United problems.
There’s no doubting that Alisson has been a positive addition to Liverpool’s squad over his first four games and I’m sure that any Reds fan would have been satisfied with a concession rate of just 0.25 goals per game at this point. It was the nature of the goal that was given up to Leicester, though, which has seen the Brazilian thrust into the limelight for the wrong reasons.
The trickery against Brighton last week hinted that Alisson is supremely confident on the ball, perhaps too much so. While Klopp evidently has contrasting tactical principles to Sam Allardyce or Tony Pulis, for example, sometimes the defensive players in Liverpool’s squad would be better served clearing their lines first and then indulging in the smooth, slick attacking play which has won this team so many admirers. That starts with Alisson hopefully becoming more likely to take the low-risk option and distribute the ball 40+ yards from his penalty area to the wings, where the danger to Liverpool’s goal is heavily diminished.
My fear is that he will continue with his knack for playing it short more often than not, which always brings with it the risk of a team-mate being pickpocketed in possession or even Alisson gifting the ball straight to an opponent. Time will tell as to whether he’ll be as assured as Ederson or as panicky as Claudio Bravo. For £67 million, one would hope it will be the former.