After another season of inconsistent goalkeeping costing Liverpool dearly in 17/18 they did exactly what they needed to do and spent big in the transfer window to hopefully seal what looks like their final area of weakness.
Their choice to finally solve their goalkeeping woes? Brazilian number 1 Alisson from Italian side Roma, who would cost them a then record transfer fee for a goalkeeper of 67 million pounds – only to be broken a few days later by Chelsea.
With 31 caps for Brazil, having secured the number 1 spot in the national team ahead of Manchester City’s Ederson and interest from a number of the top European clubs it looks like Liverpool have signed a goalkeeper who is good with his feet and his hands, allowing Liverpool to recycle the ball and keep possession in the same way as the majority of Europe’s top clubs are now doing.
Liverpool’s start to the season has been impressive, with 4 wins from 4 and prior to their match against Leicester they had kept clean sheets in their first 3 games, a sign that Alisson and last years signing of Virgil Van Dijk had made that back line a force to be reckoned with.
In those first 3 games however, Alisson had already started to cause a few panic attacks for Liverpool fans whilst trying to play himself out of trouble with little dinks and feints, most notably twice in their recent game against Brighton where he was fortunate to escape one particular incident that almost proved costly when he tried to overplay with the ball at his feet.
Following the game, Alisson himself came out and told fans they would have to get used to him taking a few risks stating
“It is already calculated. I take risks. Fans with heart problems have to be careful!”
Fast forward a couple of days to their next Premier League game against Leicester and catastrophe strikes.
Alisson received a back pass from his Liverpool team mate Van Dijk which saw him having to chase the ball down to prevent it going across the line for a corner, but even after taking his first touch to control the ball he had plenty of time to send it long down the wing. Instead he opted to try a Cruyff turn which Leicester striker Kelechi Iheanacho read perfectly, robbed him of the ball and rolled the ball across the six-yard box to Rachid Ghezzal to slot into an unguarded net.
Liverpool went on to win the game 2-1 and Alisson got away with his mistake, but social media exploded with comments about the error and everyone wanted to wade in on his mistake, but was it really that much of a surprise and where does Alisson go from here?
Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp came out after the game and defended his number 1 but seemed to state clearly that lessons will be learned from it. His demeanour on the pitch immediately after the error was clear for everyone to see, there is no doubt that he expected his goalkeeper to get that ball under control and then punt it up the field into a safe area of the pitch.
In all of the various opinions that have been thrown around in the aftermath of his mistake and believe me there have been many. From people labelling this why goalkeepers shouldn’t play out from the back to my personal favourite Paul Robinson talking about goalkeepers being goalkeepers because they can’t play football and therefore shouldn’t try to play football and should just clear it.
Particularly enjoyable, as Paul Robinson is probably most famous for his mistake for England against Croatia in trying to clear a back pass first time when he had time to take a touch only to see it bobble over his foot and end up in the back of the net.
It seems that pundits and writers are bundling the way that Alisson plays with the ball at his feet in the general bracket of goalkeepers being the 11th man on the pitch to recycle possession and keep their team in control of the game.
Alisson’s mistake wasn’t that he fluffed up a Cruyff turn, it was that he believed that risk was worth the reward of maintaining possession. He said it himself, his risks are calculated – his calculations are wrong.
Forget that he is a goalkeeper, imagine your centre half or any other player trying to pull off a Cruyff turn as the last man inside his own box, it simply doesn’t happen – because the risk is not worth the reward and one mistake will likely lead to a goal and weeks of abuse from fans.
Part of Robinson’s statement however is pretty true, goalkeepers are generally not as skilful as some of the top professional players, the reason they often get away with their feints and skilful moves is because the onrushing attacker expects them to want to clear it as far and hard as possible under pressure and commit to trying to block the clearance.
But Alisson showed in his first 3 games that his first priority is never to get rid of the ball – regardless of the pressure, and every Premier League club’s analyst saw this and told every Premier League striker this in less than a fortnight.
So, when Iheanacho was racing after the Liverpool goalkeeper to put him under pressure, not for one minute was he looking to block the clearance because he knew that the Liverpool goalkeeper was unlikely to launch it upfield and he knew that the reward if he was right was potentially huge – his evaluation of risk and reward paid off big.
Alisson and the Liverpool coaching staff have to act fast to ensure this doesn’t become a regular thing, because you can rest assured that their next opponents will be looking to close the keeper down as quickly as possible to try and force another error and Alisson needs to change his game to ensure he isn’t caught again.
But this doesn’t mean he has to simply smash the ball away anytime it comes near him, nor do I expect he will and Klopp certainly won’t want him to either.
They will want him to use his footballing ability to play the ball around the back superbly like they know he can, but to re-assess his Risk vs Reward calculations that happen in an instant. Fundamentally – they will want him to re-assess his thoughts on this quote of his given just a few days before his Leicester blunder:
“If sometimes there is a situation where there is dribbling, I do it carefully,”
“It could be too risky, but it’s part of the game, we are a team that plays from the back with the ball on the ground.”
I personally think Alisson’s lesson has been learnt – without any major cost and it is something that he can move forward from and be a key cog in supporting Liverpool in their title challenge this season.
But if he doesn’t learn his lesson and it ends up costing his team points and trophies, he will find the Anfield fans less forgiving than against Leicester.