Saturday 17 August 2019

Alisson to Liverpool: What are his strengths and weaknesses and is he worth £67 million?

Roma goalkeeper Alisson
Roma goalkeeper Alisson

Daniel Zeqiri

When Jurgen Klopp was asked about Liverpool's troublesome goalkeeping situation in February, he said: "My favourite solution, always, is that we do it with our boys. They step up, they deliver, they improve." As a wise man once sang: you can't always get what you want.

Five months, a World Cup, and two Champions League final howlers from Loris Karius later, Liverpool are spending a world-record £67 million on Roma and Brazil goalkeeper Alisson.

Reaping the rewards of consecutive seasons in the Champions League and funds raised by the sale of Philippe Coutinho, Liverpool are putting the finishing touches on a squad that can challenge for the Premier League title.

Klopp's side relied heavily on the pressing, speed and quality of their front three last season, but now have the look of a more well-rounded outfit after stiffening their spine.

Virgil van Dijk's arrival in January vindicated the club's decision to keep their powder dry last summer, with Fabinho and Naby Keita following in this window. Is Alisson the last piece in the jigsaw?

His career so far...

The soon-to-be former Roma goalkeeper is relatively inexperienced, but this should be cause for excitement rather than worry among Liverpool fans. Just 25, Alisson has only played one full season as a No.1 in Europe so has tremendous scope for improvement. If he maintains his standards and avoids serious injury, he could be Liverpool's first-choice goalkeeper for the next decade, which would rationalise the eye-watering transfer fee.

Alisson hails from the Rio Grande do Sul State in Brazil and his considerable talents were cultivated at Internacional, playing minutes in both the state and national championship. He had only 83 first-team starts to his name when he moved to Roma in 2016, acting as Wojciech Szczesny's deputy for a season without starting a game in Serie A. The former Arsenal man's move to Juventus presented Alisson with his chance, and he made 37 league starts as Roma finished third and reached the Champions League semi-finals.

Known as ‘goleiro gato'  in Brazil - literally 'handsome goalkeeper' - Alisson has refused modelling work and even rejected claims that his good looks have accelerated his progress. Alisson was given quite the reference from former Roma goalkeeping coach Roberto Negrisolo when he was asked about the price tag:

“He's worth much more. I don't think many people have realised who Alisson is," Negrisolo told newspaper Il Romanista. "This guy is a phenomenon. He is the number one of No.1s."

“He is the Messi of goalkeepers, because he has the same mentality as Messi. He is a goalkeeper who can define an era.”

“The way he behaves in goal, he reminds me of Dino Zoff."

Safe to say he is a fan.

Why have Liverpool bought him?

A simple question abounds when deciding whether or not to buy a player: is he better than existing options? The answer in the case of Alisson and Liverpool is a resounding yes.

Karius and Simon Mignolet have not been uniformly dreadful during their Anfield careers - both have had promising spells as first-choice - but inconsistency and costly mistakes have dogged the pair.

It is difficult to divorce goalkeeping statistics from the defences they play behind, so it is not worth stewing over clean sheets kept or goals conceded. Alisson should have few problems adapting to Liverpool's style - Roma had more possession than any team in Serie A, so he is used to standing idle while his team dominates. That is always a worry for big clubs when they shop for a new goalkeeper - how will their concentration cope with being tested sporadically?

The number that will hearten Liverpool fans is the zero under errors leading to goals. If your goalkeeper can win points you have no right to - as David de Gea does for Manchester United - then great, but the minimum requirement for the No.1 at a Champions League club is that he does not cost points.

Of the goalkeepers who made more than 20 starts in Europe's top five leagues last season, Alisson's save percentage is bettered only by De Gea and Atletico Madrid's Jan Oblak.

That reinforces what we already know: Alisson is a very solid shot-stopper. Save percentage does not provide a full picture, of course - the type of shots that produce those saves will influence the numbers. For instance, Atletico Madrid are masters at forcing teams to take shots from distance or hurl crosses into the box. So Oblak may face plenty of attempts but few high-quality chances.

Liverpool's defensive strategy is the inverse of Atletico's. Klopp's side try to pin opponents in their own half with high pressure and limit their touches and attempts in Liverpool's defensive third. However, when teams play through the press they can create high-quality chances because Liverpool leave their centre backs exposed with plenty of green grass behind them. So a goalkeeper in a Klopp side may be called upon to make more one-on-one saves.

Is he worth £67 million?

Ederson and Thibaut Courtois have come to market in the past year for around £35 million, so it is easy to construct an argument that Liverpool have over-paid. That said, Courtois has just one year remaining on his Chelsea contract while Alisson keeps Ederson out of the Brazil team.

If Alisson proves successful, the transfer fee will be quickly forgotten. Liverpool have the money to buy the player they want in a position of need, and are doing so. It is difficult to pin-point any weaknesses in Alisson's game.

There is usually a trade-off with goalkeepers between commanding the penalty area and excelling in one-on-one situations. Taller goalkeepers such as Courtois or Petr Cech offer security on crosses but can lack agility when asked to come off their line, while the reverse is true of the sweeper-keeper types such as Hugo Lloris or Marc-Andre ter Stegen.

Alisson is strong in both departments, which ought to mean he can mop up behind Liverpool's high-line as well as ease their long-term trouble with set-pieces.

Online Editors

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