Liverpool needed a new goalkeeper. No, it was not decided when Sergio Ramos decided to smash his elbow into Loris Karius’ head during the Champions League Final. It was perhaps decided when Simon Mignolet (and the Reds in general) had a horror show of a match at Wembley against Tottenham early last season. Or maybe, it was decided when somebody at the club decided to look at both Karius’ and Mignolet’s goal per shot on goal faced stats. It seems both the goalkeepers for Reds gave away a goal for every three shots on goal they faced. While that is not as bad as it sounds it still highlights why Liverpool needed a new goalkeeper if they wanted to compete effectively with Manchester City, United, Tottenham, Chelsea and Arsenal.
That they went after Alisson Becker of AS Roma, especially after the initial news indicating the reduced probability of such a deal happening, is surprising. Possibly it was the World Cup’s effect or maybe it was Mohamed Salah’s text messages urging Alisson to join or perhaps it was decided even before the World Cup started, whatever the trigger and the process, as of now, Alisson Becker has joined Liverpool. He becomes the most expensive goalkeeper in the world, as the Reds are rumoured to have paid in the range of £66 million for him.
With that deal, Liverpool fans can kiss goodbye to the tag of a smart spending team. The most expensive central defender, as well as the most expensive goalkeeper in the world, now call Anfield home. While it diverges substantially from the thrift that Jurgen Klopp was known for, it might be a sign of the manager learning in the English league and adapting to it. It has been proven time and again that miracles like Leicester City notwithstanding, the probability of winning the league increases with transfer and wage spends.
But we Liverpool fans should not just rejoice because they have bought an expensive player. We should perhaps look at some of the stats about Alisson that will help us understand why the Reds paid through their nose for him.
Alisson Becker is a 25-year old Brazilian goalkeeper who came through the ranks at Internacional in Brazilian Serie A. He signed for Roma at the start of the 2016-17 season and was primarily deployed in Europe and in domestic cup competitions. He impressed enough in those matches for Roma to make him their first-choice keeper at the start of 2017-18 season.
He was also Brazil’s first choice keeper, both in the just concluded World Cup, as well as in the qualifying campaign. Football Manager DB (a mobile app released by the Football Manager franchise) describes Alisson as great at one on ones and reflexes but not so much at punching the ball. He is also good at throwing the ball long and starting counter attacks. According to their estimates, Alisson is a good goalkeeper with the potential to be elite.
If we just look at Alisson’s 2017-18 stats, the ones that got him noticed by the likes of Liverpool and Chelsea, we can see some of the reasons why Liverpool rate him so high. He looks like an exceptional shot-stopper with an extremely high save percentage. For Roma last season, he saved 81% of the shots he faced on target in the league. On an average, he faced 3.82 shots on target per league game, and he managed to save 3.11 per game. Including Champions League and domestic cups, this saves % drops a bit to 78.34% but it is still very impressive. This is even more impressive when one considers Wyscout’s estimate that close to 50% of these saves were reflex saves. To put it into perspective Karius’ and Mignolet’s save percentages during the same time frame were 65.17% and 60% respectively.
Another impressive stat is the difference between xG against and actual goals conceded. Alisson’s xG Against, i.e. total sum of xG probabilities of all shots he faced on target last season (all competitions) was 73.71. But he conceded only 47 goals during this time frame. That means that he saved almost 27 expected goals through his skill. Karius faced shots with an expected goal total of 29.73 but conceded 31 goals and Mignolet faced an expected goal total of 28.02 but conceded 30 goals.
Another strength of Alisson lies in his distribution abilities. He has an impressive forward pass accuracy of 85.49% (82.53% for Karius and 81.06% for Mignolet). He is also more likely to release the ball quickly through a long throw as compared to the current Liverpool goalkeepers. This suits Liverpool’s style of play as their midfield and attackers are always on a lookout for a break.
These are some of the stats that could be the reason why Alisson looked so impressive to the Reds’ scouts. There could be many more reasons, related or unrelated to the player (Karius’ mental health for example). But one thing is certain, Klopp has got the Reds focusing more on strengthening their defence as he is fairly comfortable with the attacking options he has.
It is said that good attacks win matches but good defences win the league. If Alisson can help Liverpool move a level higher with his goalkeeping, by ensuring wins do not turn in to draws and draws not into losses, the high-price that Liverpool have paid for Alisson will be easily forgotten.