When Brighton’s Pascal Gross snuck in between Virgil van Dijk and Joe Gomez to meet a cross in the closing minutes at Anfield on Saturday, with Liverpool leading 1-0, Reds’ supporters could be forgiven for thinking they’d seen this movie before and that it doesn’t have a happy ending.
In recent years, Liverpool have made a habit of throwing away narrow leads against inferior opponents. It wasn’t that they gave up many chances, it’s just that seemingly every chance they did allow ended up in the back of their net.
That’s one of the reasons why Jurgen Klopp broke the world record for a goalkeeper to sign Alisson Becker from Roma for £65 million this summer. And, just three games into the season, the Brazilian has already won two points for his side that may otherwise have been lost.
We’ll never know if Simon Mignolet or Loris Karius would have kept out the header from Gross. We do know that Alisson did.
The player himself downplayed the quality of the stop when he was presented with the man of the match award afterwards, and he’ll certainly make more spectacular saves this season, but the top goalkeepers don’t always have to make difficult saves because their footwork and positioning is so good.
Watch Alisson’s movement when the cross comes in. Initially he thought about coming for it but quickly realised he wouldn’t get there. He moved back onto his line and kept on his toes which allowed him to spring to his left and make what turned out to be not the most difficult of saves.
But it was an important one. That’s why Liverpool paid the big bucks for him; to make key saves at vital moments.
So far he hasn’t had to make too many because Liverpool have defended so well. Klopp was mightily impressed with a save from a free kick at Crystal Palace, but aside from that Alisson has mostly only had to deal with a few crosses and some situations with his feet.
Yet despite his terrific start to life at Anfield, against Brighton there were a couple of slightly worrying signs of potential problems to come unless he curtails his adventurous style.
Former Reds’ striker John Aldridge revealed afterwards that the Brazilian had been told of comparisons with Bruce Grobbelaar, Liverpool’s unpredictable ‘keeper in their 1980s glory years. Understandably, Alisson did not know who Grobbelaar was — he was not even born when the Zimbabwean was between the sticks for Liverpool. The comparison is both premature and unfair though.
Grobbelaar was a fine goalkeeper but he was prone to mad moments, usually because he seemed to get bored and wanted to be involved. There is nothing to suggest Alisson is made up the same way. Nevertheless, for the Grobbelaar comparisons to go away Alisson would be wise to pick and choose his moments a little more carefully than he did against Brighton.
Klopp made light of it afterwards but did not seem overly happy about some of Alisson’s antics. It was a view shared by many inside the stadium. While the outrageous chip over Anthony Knockaert brought a huge cheer from the Anfield crowd, there were two other occasions when nerves were jangling due to the goalkeeper taking too long to get rid of the ball and giving Glen Murray the opportunity to close him down.
The first instance saw Murray almost rob him but instead committed a foul. The warning was not heeded and on the second occasion he did manage to win the ball but thankfully it came to nothing. No disrespect to Murray, but if that had been Jamie Vardy or Sergio Aguero the outcome could have been very different.
Liverpool fans are going to have to get used to it though. Alisson is so accomplished with the ball at his feet that he backs himself in situations where most keepers wouldn’t. That’s fine, it can be a real positive and he’s already shown in only three games that his distribution and ability to pick a pass can be a useful weapon for the Reds this season. It’s rare to find a goalkeeper who can pass a ball like Xabi Alonso or Jan Molby.
Along with his fellow Brazilian, Ederson at Manchester City, Alisson’s range of passing puts many a Premier League midfielder to shame. There is a time and a place for it though and there is no need to be looking for the Hollywood pass every time while holding onto the ball too long looking for it.
Alisson’s calmness under pressure and ability with his feet are going to be big assets for Liverpool but he will not get as much time on the ball in England as he’s been used to in Italy, so some adaptation will be required.
Klopp knows this, he more or less said as much after the Brighton game, so when Alisson finds the right balance between when to play and when to simply get rid of the ball, Liverpool will hopefully have finally solved their problematic goalkeeping situation … perhaps even for the next decade or more.
It’s nice having a goalkeeper that can play. But just because he can play, doesn’t always mean he should.