Not many goalkeepers will have a more convenient transition into Premier League football.
Alisson Becker, a man who has deservedly won plaudits for a string of fine performances this season, was a success at Liverpool before he’d even made a save. His predecessor, Loris Karius, inadvertently paved that path back in May without the Brazilian having to lift an outstretched fingertip.
Reds fans were crying out for a goalkeeping saviour following the infamous Karius clanger against Real Madrid and the subsequent fumble upon his return to pre-season at Tranmere. Cue the arrival of a then record-breaking stopper – a new hero with the looks, the brand recognition and the blacked out gloves to boot. The fact he’d conceded seven in two games for Roma against Liverpool just a few months prior wasn’t even considered. Liverpool had found the No1 they’d been waiting for. Alisson was in credit after his opening promo pictures. They wanted him to be a superstar. It was the perfect storm.
He’s found himself in an incredibly fortunate situation. Anyone coming in was always going to start on a more positive footing given the fact the previous incumbent had been a failure in such well-documented fashion. Look at Manchester United with Peter Schmeichel, for example. It took Alex Ferguson six years to eventually settle on a suitor for the big Dane in Edwin van der Sar. Unlike Alisson stepping in for Karius, those who arrived immediately after Schmeichel (messrs Mark Bosnich and Massimo Taibi) were facing an uphill battle to replace arguably the greatest goalkeeper there has ever been. It’s hard filling the gloves of a superstar. It’s not so hard when the guy before you had a stinker.
I had a similar scenario at Brentford. Wojciech Szczesny had been impressive on loan from Arsenal the season prior to me signing. As a result my first few months at the club were hell because I was replacing someone the fans adored. It took me a while to establish myself.
Alisson hasn’t needed to, but that’s not to say he wouldn’t have pulled up trees had Karius or Simon Mignolet been world beaters. Prior to last Saturday’s clash with Arsenal, the Brazilian had amassed 12 clean sheets, four more than closest competitors Kepa Arrizabalaga and Ederson. He’d conceded a paltry seven goals in 19 Premier League games. He’d made more saves than both Karius and Mignolet did in the same number of outings last season, yet he’d also made the same number of errors leading to goals.
? Alisson has now played the same number of #PL games (19) as both Karius and Mignolet did in 17-18.
? He’s made 44 saves (compared to 31 and 35)
? He’s conceded 7⃣ goals (compared to 14 and 24).
— The Goalkeepers’ Union (@GKUnion) December 26, 2018
And that’s where his story takes its twist. Those two errors – one with his feet against Leicester, the other with his hands against Manchester United – ended in wins for Liverpool. The mistakes weren’t costly and therefore they were forgotten. Had Liverpool dropped points and Alisson’s errors been highlighted in the press, his stock may have dropped. Had Jurgen Klopp not run on the pitch to embrace his goalkeeper after the late win against Everton, images of Anfield’s marquee man in the clutches of his boss wouldn’t have been beamed all over the world.
Therein lies the power of recency. Against Napoli earlier this month Alisson made a vital stop in the dying moments to keep Liverpool in the Champions League. After the game Klopp said he’d have paid double the £67m he splashed on the superstar. The reality was that Alisson’s save was very good, but the circumstances made it appear far better than it was. Nonetheless, the headlines had already been made.
Conversely, in a season where David de Gea hasn’t performed to the same standards as onlookers have been accustomed to, his recent successful history seems to have been forgotten. The argument he’s been playing behind a disjointed defence is ignored. At Burnley, Joe Hart has conceded the second-highest number of goals in the Premier League, but he’s also faced the second-most shots and made the most saves. Law of averages state he’ll naturally concede that many more compared to the likes of Liverpool and Manchester City. Placing Hart, who has consequently lost his place in Sean Dyche’s side, back in that City team would probably see him sat on double figures for clean sheets this season, but Pep Guardiola wouldn’t have a ball-playing goalkeeper to suit his style.
Circumstances aside, Alisson suits Liverpool’s style. And if his second half of the campaign is anything like his first, that Karius clanger could inadvertently end up being the greatest moment in the club’s recent history.