Appreciating Alisson: Analysing the “highest level” importance of Liverpool’s No. 1

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Those around him may receive more praise, but Alisson deserves to be acknowledged as one of the most important factors in Liverpool’s success.

Perceptions of goalkeepers are typically only made on a bipolar scale; high-profile saves and errors mould their reputation, not everything in between.

It is a reality that, for example, prompted Loris Karius‘ demise at Anfield, and on the opposite pole, it muffles praise for those consistently operating at the highest level.

Since his return from a long-term injury, Alisson has again been that goalkeeper, and while those around him garner praise week in, week out, his importance is often taken for granted.

Liverpool were resoundingly convinced that the Brazilian was their No. 1 target before making him, briefly, the world’s most expensive goalkeeper.

ST. LOUIS, USA - Monday, August 1, 2016: AS Roma's goalkeeper Becker Alisson in action against Liverpool during a pre-season friendly game on day twelve of the club's USA Pre-season Tour at the Busch Stadium. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Goalkeeping coach John Achterberg began following him in 2013, on the recommendation of ex-Reds stopper Doni, tracking his rise from Internacional to Roma, where he established himself as one of Europe’s finest.

The pre-season friendly between Liverpool and Roma in St Louis in 2016 saw him to introduce the young ‘keeper to Jurgen Klopp, while the arrival of Salah the following summer allowed him to consult the Egyptian on his former team-mate.

When the Reds agreed the £65 million deal to bring him to Anfield, Alisson was considered the best option the club could feasibly sign, below the rung of unattainable candidates which included Manuel Neuer.

Since then, he has emerged head and shoulders above those, and the consistency of his performances has vindicated the financial backing of Fenway Sports Group.

Saturday’s 1-0 victory over Tottenham saw Alisson busier than he usually is between the sticks: so far this season, he is averaging two saves per game in the Premier League, but in north London he made four.

LONDON, ENGLAND - Saturday, January 11, 2020: Liverpool's goalkeeper Alisson Becker celebrates after the FA Premier League match between Tottenham Hotspur FC and Liverpool FC at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. Liverpool won 1-0. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

With those in front of him experiencing a rare nervy evening, with mistakes providing Spurs a foothold they should not have, the No. 1 was on hand to bail them out.

Notably, the quality of Alisson‘s saves at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium were a bigger relief, with the 27-year-old not only stopping the shot but also collecting the ball.

His fellow goalkeeper, Paulo Gazzaniga, repeatedly parried the ball into danger; where Alisson encouraged a calming dominance, Gazzaniga fed into Liverpool’s relentless approach and kept Spurs on the back foot.

This is not a new phenomenon for Alisson, with data analyst Dan Kennett comparing goalkeepers in the Premier League since the start of 2011/12 and describing the Brazilian as “the safest of safe hands”:

Kennett also noted how Alisson “has saved the last 17 shots on target that he has faced in all competitions,” and “34 of the last 37″—or 92 percent.

Even more impressive, he has done so when under the most pressure, as Kennett detailed following the Club World Cup final:

Alisson has been a key factor in Liverpool’s success in cup competitions, with his performances on the road to last season’s Champions League final, and the clash with Spurs in Madrid itself, evidence of this.

And this season, with the Reds operating at a steadier pace, his ability to make decisive saves when the game is in the balance is increasingly important.

“It’s important to make the vital saves where it’s 0-0 and 1-0, because when it’s 3-0 there’s no need really—if you’re 3-0 down or you’re winning 3-0,” Achterberg told The Athletic’s Red Agenda podcast this week.

“It’s about when it’s 0-0 and 1-0, to keep the team on the right side and in the game.

“That’s what he’s produced, and we can only be happy that he’s our goalie, that’s how it is and hopefully we can keep that consistency.”

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Tuesday, December 11, 2018: Liverpool's goalkeeper Alisson Becker makes an injury time save from Napoli's Arkadiusz Milik during the UEFA Champions League Group C match between Liverpool FC and SSC Napoli at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Part of this is due to Alisson‘s natural ability, with Achterberg explaining that “the speed he has, and the power, that is of the highest level.

His quick positioning to stop Arkadiusz Milik’s shot to earn a win-or-go-home 1-0 at home to Napoli in last season’s Champions League showed this.

But it is also owing to his intelligence and mental fortitude, adapting to “brain training” at Melwood and ensuring he consistently makes the right decision—again, as Achterberg attests, he “nearly always” does.

“If you play for Liverpool, you only have to wait every game for these one or two moments you’re needed, and you have to be there,” the Dutchman continued.

“I always say, for instance before the game or at half-time, ‘make sure you stay warm and keep the players switched on’, by talking to players or keeping moving because when the ball is on the other side you can be really cold.

“You’re warm so then your body stays ready, and obviously that is something from my own experience playing, but then I basically try to give that information so he can use it.

“It’s up to him if he can use it, but his concentration level in his mind is really good, and that shows he has a high level of concentration and focus.”

LONDON, ENGLAND - Saturday, January 11, 2020: Liverpool's goalkeeper Alisson Becker heads the ball during the FA Premier League match between Tottenham Hotspur FC and Liverpool FC at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

There was a prime example of Alisson staying on his toes during a quiet first half of Saturday’s win over Spurs, when he charged off his line to make a headed clearance, closer to the halfway line than his goal.

He took to Twitter to jokingly refer to evidence of this as the “pic of the night,” but it was a moment that encapsulated his all-round approach.

Liverpool called upon a number of proficient shot-stoppers in the years prior to Alisson‘s arrival, with Simon Mignolet among those, but there were few that married this with the front-footed approach of a sweeper-keeper.

Achterberg revealed that in one game Alisson recorded the highest sprint speed of any player, which is remarkable considering this will have come from a standing start.

At times, such as when his handball outside the area earned him a red card in November’s 2-1 win over Brighton, this will catch the Brazilian out, but—as with his reactions in the six-yard box—more often than not his judgement is correct.

And as a modern goalkeeper, he is also one of the best in terms of distribution, whether long or short, kicking or throwing, or from his hands or on the ground, and this is crucial to Liverpool’s ability to blitz sides on the break:

Achterberg and the Reds’ recruitment staff pulled off a coup by identifying Adrian as a like-for-like stand-in, while the support of the entire goalkeeper’s union at Liverpool deserves considerable praise.

But there is little denying Alisson is the best at what he does—not only on Merseyside, but throughout world football, and the first-ever Yashin Trophy is proof of that.

At 27, he is far from his peak as a goalkeeper, too, and beyond injury the only barrier between him maintaining this reputation for years to come is complacency.

DOHA, QATAR - Saturday, December 21, 2019: Liverpool's Roberto Firmino and goalkeeper Alisson Becker kiss the trophy after the FIFA Club World Cup Qatar 2019 Final match between CR Flamengo and Liverpool FC at the Khalifa Stadium. Liverpool won 1-0 after extra time. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

“He has to find his drive to keep that consistency for a long time, and that is what we talk with him about: you won all those trophies, can you produce it again?” Achterberg said.

“That’s the same as the mode for winning the next game, you want to win the next trophy, you want to stay in the same way of playing, you want to be the best goalie, stay the best goalie. That’s how you create your own drive.”

There appears little danger of Alisson stagnating.

The progress he has already made and the minor setbacks he has overcome are indicative of his unfettered ambition, while Achterberg believes “he can be on this level another five years.”

And his contribution to what is already a record-breaking season for Liverpool is as deserving of praise as the likes of Sadio Mane, Virgil van Dijk and Trent Alexander-Arnold.

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