When Liverpool signed goalkeeper Alisson Becker in the summer for a reported fee of £67 million, Liverpool fans couldn’t believe the club would address a problem position in such a way and opposition fans laughed at the “crazy money” that the Reds had spent. I was sceptical, to say the least. Of course, I had recognised that Liverpool needed to sign a new goalkeeper but having watched Alisson at the World Cup and in the Champions League, I was struggling to see why there was so much hype surrounding the Brazilian. I also felt the fee was way too much for the quality of goalie that Liverpool were signing, but how wrong I was!
Why did Liverpool Sign Alisson?
There are two reasons why a football club signs anyone. Reason number one is that there is a weakness in their squad in a position. Reason number two is that the signed player is better than anyone else they already have or could get for the same fee in that position.
By the end of last season, it was clear to everybody that Liverpool had a massive weakness in their team and that was the quality of their goalkeepers. Simon Mignolet, now in his fifth season at Anfield, has never fully impressed with it always being a bit of a surprise that he is still at the club after every transfer window. Loris Karius did leave an impression towards the tail end of last season having established himself as Liverpool’s number one, although a horror show in the Champions League final left the goalkeeper and fans with no confidence in his abilities, making it impossible for him to carry on as Liverpool’s goalkeeper.
Clearly, with Liverpool having such a glaring weakness it would not have taken very much for Alisson to impress his potential suitors, although this time a year ago, Alisson would not have featured very high on any Liverpool fan’s wish list, having spent the previous season as understudy to former Arsenal goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny. However, in the past season, Alisson showed to Liverpool that he is an upgrade on both Mignolet and Karius, while proving to Roma fans that he was an upgrade on Szczesny.
This can be seen clearly in the statistics. In the league, last season Alisson averaged 3.41 saves per goal, much higher than Szczesny’s 2.22, Karius’ 2 and Mignolet’s pitiful 0.95. Alisson was also more commanding than the other three, making 2.56 catches per 90 minutes, in comparison to Karius’ 2.15, Szczesny’s 1.71 and Mignolet’s 1.55.
Unsurprisingly, given the fact that he is Brazilian and was probably born dribbling a football, Alisson also had the most accurate distribution of the four with 83% of his throws and passes reaching their targets, higher than Szczesny’s 81%, Mignolet’s 75% and Karius’ 72%.
Already Looking Good Value for Money
It is always a risk buying a player off the back of one good season. All too often Liverpool have fallen victim to being too keen to be ahead of the curve and buy a player off the back of one good season just to find the player had temporarily been in good form. Examples such as Charlie Adam, Andy Carroll and to some extent Loris Karius come to mind. However, any fears that Alisson would fall into this bracket have quickly been banished.
Despite only being eight league games into the season, the impact of Alisson on Liverpool’s defence is obvious. The first eight games of last season saw Liverpool concede 19 goals, and this was before the horror show at Wembley against Spurs. The first eight this season have seen the Reds concede only three goals. Obviously, the contribution of Virgil van Dijk and the rest of the defence must also be praised with the Dutchman bringing an air of calmness to the defence since his January arrival. This has coincided with Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andy Robertson going up a level in terms of their overall ability, while also benefitting his centre-back partner Dejan Lovren at the end of last season and allowing Joe Gomez to grow into Lovren’s role so far this campaign.
However, when Liverpool’s defence has been breached this season, opposition teams have not found it any easier to score, with Alisson making 18 saves so far in the league meaning that he is now making six saves for every goal that he concedes. This could be even more impressive given the fact that one of the three goals he has conceded came from his own mistake when he tried to Cruyff turn around Kelechi Iheanacho when playing against Leicester. Indeed, despite being the second most expensive goalkeeper in history, following Chelsea’s signing of Kepa Arrizabalaga for a reported £72 million, there is an argument that Alisson is already repaying that fee and may even be seen of as a bargain in the coming seasons if the Samba star carries on at his current level and football carries on seeing its current inflation of transfer fees.
When I think of world-class goalkeepers, I see two tiers: the elite keepers of Manuel Neuer, Gianluigi Buffon, David De Gea, Jan Oblak and Marc-Andre ter Stegen and those not far behind in Thibaut Courtois, Hugo Lloris and Keylor Navas. For the money Liverpool spent on Alisson, they must be hoping that he at least enters these two tiers in the future, if he isn’t there already.
Looking at the statistics from last season, excluding Neuer who only made three league appearances due to injury, there is an argument that Alisson should already be discussed alongside the elite keepers. In terms of distribution accuracy, Alisson was the joint best alongside ter Stegen, who is widely regarded as the second-best sweeper keeper in the world behind Neuer, with both Alisson and ter Stegen finding the targets of their passes 83% of the time.
Bizarrely, despite it widely being considered a benefit if your goalkeeper chooses to catch the ball instead of punching it, only Courtois from my second list had fewer catches per 90 minutes than any of the “elite” goalkeepers with Lloris, averaging 2.46, and Navas, who averaged 2.60, both having more catches per 90 than any from my elite tier. Alisson also had more catches than any of the elite goalkeepers, sitting in between Navas and Lloris on 2.56 catches per 90 minutes.
The real difference between the two levels of goalkeepers comes in the average number of saves that they make per goal conceded. Here, Navas’ 2.36 saves per goal conceded last season saw him be the closest to the elite goalkeepers, with De Gea having the lowest average of those with an average of 3.46 saves per goal. Alisson’s average of 3.41 puts him closer to the elite tier showing how close to that level he was last season. If he were to maintain his Liverpool league average of six saves per goal, then he would be head and shoulders above any in the elite tier, with Oblak having the highest average last season of 4.56 saves per goal.
At the end of the day, it is still too early to deem Alisson a successful signing, however, all the signs are there that he will prove to be a success for Liverpool. However, the task for Alisson now is to cement himself as one of the world’s elite goalkeepers and win trophies during his time on Merseyside. But with the impact he has had on the team since his arrival and the confidence the team has in him in comparison to Karius, stands this Liverpool side in as good a stead as any to help Alisson become the world’s best goalkeeper.