Thursday 20 June 2019

Chris Bascombe: 'Alisson already proving he has potential to match the greatest stoppers to play for Liverpool'

Alisson is a big hit on the Kop. Photo: Action Images via Reuters
Alisson is a big hit on the Kop. Photo: Action Images via Reuters

Chris Bascombe

After the adulation for Alisson Becker's "life-saving" contribution to Liverpool's Champions League win against Napoli, there was bound to be a backlash.

The more sceptical observations about the £65 million goalkeeper just happening to be in the right place at the right time to deny Arkadiusz Milik a 92nd-minute equaliser can be taken with a consignment of irony.

"It was straight at him" has been heard more frequently at Anfield over the past 30 years than 'You'll Never Walk Alone'. Usually by 40,000 fans who've just seen Liverpool surrender superiority and concede a last-minute equaliser.

If you think a shot being "straight at him" is any guarantee of a match-defining save by a Liverpool goalkeeper, you have not watched enough of them fail to cope with this occupational hazard and career menace over the past 30 years.

At first glance, such careless concessions did not always appear to be their fault.

Then halfway through the season, the statisticians would supply a list showing horrific shot-to-goal ratios. A few months of Liverpool being linked with every goalkeeper on the continent would then follow.

This season, the same records make compelling reading for positive reasons.

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Alisson's save percentage of 85.71 is the best in the Premier League. Last season, Liverpool conceded a goal every 64 minutes, the second-worst in the Premier League.

Obviously the sample size is considerably smaller for Alisson than his predecessors, but at the start of his Anfield career opposition strikers need 240 minutes to beat him. They score every 74 minutes against Simon Mignolet.

Statistically, the second-best Liverpool goalkeeper in the Premier League era is Pepe Reina, who conceded every 104 minutes.

No Liverpool keeper has conceded as few as six goals in his first 16 Premier League games.

For balance, amid the deification of Liverpool's current goalkeeper, it would be brutally unfair to say the club have not had any good No 1s for three decades.

When they first joined, Jerzy Dudek and Reina excelled - and the Spaniard's figures are still impressive, despite a dip in his final years.

The confidence of Dudek and Reina sapped and they left the club unrecognisable from when they joined.

Their decline was easy to identify because some lines are worth repeating.

To be a great goalkeeper for Liverpool - or any elite club - you must master the art of doing little exceedingly well.

For a while both Dudek and Reina did this. Then they joined the ranks of Liverpool goalkeepers who, having been spectators for 95pc of a game, succumbed to the inevitable, aerial bombardment.

Others never coped with this weekly concentration exam on a consistent basis. Mignolet has enjoyed many fine games for Liverpool, but not enough.

When the good moments came they were lauded as exceptional. That was the problem - the exception, not the rule.

Then there are the toils of Loris Karius. Go further back and Brad Friedel signed for Liverpool too early in his career - the nervous wreck at Anfield was a distant relative of the class goalkeeper who excelled everywhere else.

David James was naturally brilliant, but could not stop himself flapping at corners and, while many are articulating Alisson is Liverpool's best since Bruce Grobbelaar, even this most decorated goalkeeper was described as "eccentric" with good reason.

Grobbelaar's agility was as extraordinary as his medal haul, but he was error-prone in a world-class team.

The greatest Liverpool goalkeeper - the man against which all others are and will be judged - is Ray Clemence.

In his early months at the club, Alisson has brought a level of reassurance that evokes memories of Liverpool's finest.

We must reiterate how early it is to judge. We should all re-assemble in five or six years - assessing what Liverpool have won and how much Alisson has contributed - before stating with authority that the Brazilian is Liverpool's best since Clemence. However, he has the potential to be.

When Alisson's name chimed from the Kop in the aftermath of blocking Milik's close-range effort, it was not about one, majestic save. This was public recognition of a series of influential performances.

On Tuesday, Alisson underlined what has been so reassuring since the start of this season. The era of Liverpool supporters watching their goalkeeper through their fingers looks over.

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