CHelsea will not need reminding of the role Liverpool’s second-choice goalkeeper played in their downfall when the sides last met at Wembley. The form of Liverpool’s first choice – or “the best goalie in the world”, to use Jürgen Klopp’s description – places a greater obstacle between Thomas Tuchel’s team and payback in Saturday’s FA Cup final.
In a quadruple-chasing season featuring a club record 142 goals and counting, the dazzling impact of Luis Díaz, the world-class consistency of Sadio Mané and Mohamed Salah, and the contract doubts that surround them both, it is understandable the spotlight has settled only floatingly on Alisson Becker. Yet as the away section at Villa Park recognized after Tuesday’s vital win over Aston Villa by chanting the Brazilian’s name long after the final whistle, his contribution to Liverpool’s remarkable campaign cannot be overstated.
In many respects the 29-year-old shaped this campaign from the point of his 95th-minute winner at West Bromwich Albion last season that kept Klopp’s injury-hit team on course for Champions League qualification. “Now let’s try to win it this season and then it will be even more special,” said Alisson when reflecting on his centre-forward’s header in August. Liverpool are one step from granting that particular wish.
The perfectionist in Alisson will have been annoyed by his part in Douglas Luiz’s opener for Villa and the error that gifted Ollie Watkins possession just outside the Liverpool penalty area. The unflappable professional in Alisson ensured neither affected his game, however, and two fine saves from Danny Ings helped secure the 2-1 victory that kept Liverpool on Manchester City’s tails with two games remaining in the title race.
Douglas Luiz’s goal, and Son Heung-min’s for Tottenham on Saturday, kept Alisson waiting for a 21st clean sheet of the Premier League season. He has the opportunity to equal or surpass the Liverpool Premier League record of 21 – set by Alisson in his debut season at the club in 2018-19 – against Southampton and Wolves next week.
Only Ederson has kept as many clean sheets this term, although Alisson has faced more shots and made more saves than his international teammate and Premier League rival. The fine margins between Liverpool and City even extended to the battle for the Golden Gloves award. Édouard Mendy, who Liverpool will face in the Cup final, trails the two Brazilians in third with 14 clean sheets.
Alisson’s save percentage of 73.7 is the second highest in the Premier League this season behind José Sá, whose number dipped to 74.5% after Wolves’ mauling by City on Wednesday. The Liverpool keeper’s ratio of saves inside the box has increased from 58.2% in 2019-20 to about 75% this season. His pass success rate is also up marginally, from 85.5% last season to 86.2%. The statistics reflect a goalkeeper in prime form but do not encapsulate Alisson’s importance to Liverpool.
Ings is the latest opposition striker who can vouch for the former Roma player’s formidable reputation in one-v-ones. That ability, enhanced by speed and awareness, gives Liverpool’s manager and defenders the confidence to play the high line so fundamental to Klopp’s approach, and to accept the risks that accompany it.
Liverpool’s trust in Alisson was also evident when he was consulted over the appointment of the Brazil World Cup-winner Cláudio Taffarel to their goalkeeping coaching staff in November. The position is always evolving, Klopp explained, and the responsibility on Alisson increasing.
“When I was a player the most important skill [for a goalkeeper] was to save the ball but then it developed,” the Liverpool manager said. “You could pass the ball back but that meant the goalkeeper had to use his feet and it was really tricky.
It is obviously a position that is getting more and more influential and not only in the defensive moments but also the offensive moments.
“You see now a lot of goalkeepers are pretty long when they shoot the balls, which is good for some teams and we use that tactic from time to time as well. But it is more about being involved in the build-up situations; you can give the ball to the centre-halves without thinking: ‘Oh my God, what is he doing?’ You’ve got to shoot [go long] with channeled balls, switch the balls from side, make the game big – all these kind of things.”
Chelsea could find no way past Caoimhín Kelleher during 120 minutes of February’s enthralling Carabao Cup final. That was the third draw in three meetings between the clubs this season before Kelleher scored Liverpool’s final penalty – and Mendy’s 119th-minute replacement, Kepa Arrizabalaga, missed Chelsea’s – as Klopp’s team triumphed 11-10 in the shootout. The return of Alisson will strengthen Liverpool’s belief for part two of their quadruple pursuit.