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Transfer Scouting: Alisson Becker

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Liverpool are paying a record transfer fee to sign Brazil’s number one. What are they getting for their £66M?

Brazil Training Session - FIFA World Cup Russia 2018 Photo by Buda Mendes/Getty Images

Following their return to the Champions League last year, Liverpool have shown ambition and determination in the transfer market, looking to seize the opportunity they have—a top manager, a strong core, steady ownership, and robust finances—to ensure not only will they be able to stay near the top of the league in England and be a competitive force in Europe in future years but that they will be able to push for the very highest honours.

After bringing in Mohamed Salah, Virgil van Dijk, Naby Keïta, and Fabinho—each one a standout, marquee signing—over the past twelve months, Brazil and Roma stopper Alisson will join the club in a deal worth around £66M. It’s a record fee paid for a goalkeeper. It is another statement of intent by the club. It means Liverpool are, after a second half to last season that saw them run level with Manchester City, co-favourites to win the Premier League in 2018-19.


Alisson Becker

Goalkeeper
DOB: 2/10/92 (25 years old) | Height: 6’4” (193cm)
2017/18: 49 appearances | 47 goals conceded | 22 clean sheets

Strengths: First and foremost, Alisson is a dominating presence in the penalty area and with Roma in 2017-18 was one of Europe’s premier shot-stoppers. Nobody has yet been able to agree on quite how to best use stats to measure goalkeeper efficiency, but by any measure currently available it’s obvious that Alisson outperforms the average by a fair margin and, as a shot-stopper, is on par with Europe’s most highly regarded goalkeepers.

His saves per goal conceded and shots faced totals last season were in line with David de Gea’s for Manchester United and comfortably ahead of Chelsea’s Thibaut Courtois, and amongst goalkeepers at top clubs only Jan Oblak and Marc andre ter Stegen with Atletico Madrid and Barcelona saved more shots for every goal conceded. He also helped Roma to over-perform xGA by roughly 12 goals. That is, Roma conceded 12 fewer times than they would expect to with an “average” goalkeeper—and plug in average and Roma likely finish seventh or eighth last season in Serie A. Liverpool, meanwhile, under-performed xGA by about two goals in the league last season.

For Alisson, it’s not quite the same level of xGA over-performance as de Gea (+18), who was the difference between United finishing in the top four last season and fighting it out for a Europa league place, but it stacks up favourably to both Oblak’s Atletico Madrid and ter Stegen’s Barcelona over-performance (+13.5) and is comfortably ahead of Coutrois (-1), who almost certainly wouldn’t be on his way to Real Madrid to replace Keylor Navas (whose season, statistically, looked a lot like Courtois’) right now without having had a standout World Cup.

Beyond just stopping shots—though for a goalkeeper that’s always going to be the first concern—Alisson is also a commanding aerial presence and a cool head in the penalty area, comfortable fighting through traffic and not easily rattled. That coolness extends to when the ball is at his feet, and there were few better in Europe last season filling the sweeper-keeper role than the 25-year-old Brazilian, who is quick and decisive when he moves for the ball, allowing a team to play confidently with a high line and able to operate as a third centre half when called upon both on and off the ball. This, coincidentally, matches up well with how Jürgen Klopp has asked his goalkeepers to play at Liverpool—Alisson is fully capable of doing, at a truly elite level, what Klopp has asked both Loris Karius and Simon Mignolet to do to mixed effect in his time at the club.

Weaknesses: When you pay £66M for a goalkeeper, you don’t expect a lot of weaknesses, but Alisson isn’t perfect. Shot-stopping, command of the box, his reading of the game and ability with the ball at his feet are all elite, but his long distribution is a glaring weak spot that was on display with Brazil at the World Cup this summer. In short, if your goal is to have a team build out from the back with Alisson operating as a third centre half with the ball, it works. If you ask him to spread the ball long, it tends not to. In general this shouldn’t be an issue at Liverpool, but it may slightly hurt the team’s ability to launch quick counters off corners and free-kicks.

Alisson’s other major weakness isn’t so much an issue shown at Roma as that he really only has 2017-18 to go off. He was one of Europe’s top shot-stoppers last season, performing at an elite level and helping his club to over-perform in the table relative to their quality of play, and even when he let in goals—as he did against Liverpool in the Champions League semi-final—they tended to be goals he wouldn’t have been expected to save even as an over-performing shot-stopper and they didn’t dent his confidence. And yet, when trying to evaluate Alisson, you really only have 2017-18 to go off of.

The year before, his first in Europe following his move from Internacional, he made 15 cup appearances—and his record of 19 goals against and four clean sheets in those 15 games was hardly stellar. It was an adjustment year with Alisson as Roma’s number two. What he did for Roma this past season is impressive, and for everything bar long distribution he was one of Europe’s elite stoppers in 2017-18, but compared to the likes of de Gea and Oblak or even ter Stegen and Courtois that’s just not a lot to go off and there’s always a risk that last season will be an outlier for the player.

Summary: The good news for Liverpool fans is that the club’s scouts and statistical gurus are all in on Alisson and have been since late last year, when on less than half a season as a first choice ‘keeper in Europe he was identified as the first choice target. As much as it might be hard to judge goalkeepers on the numbers—and xGA in particular is an awkward measurement that doesn’t take into account blocked shots or otherwise wasted chances—Liverpool’s recruitment team have done stellar work in recent seasons. From identifying Salah as a player on the cusp of a breakthrough to being willing to commit a world record fee to signing Van Dijk, they’ve shown they can both play the advanced statistics game and spend big when called upon.

Alisson’s rather short track record in Europe is cause for concern, but if the club and Klopp believe what he showed for Roma in 2017-18 was not an outlier but what we can expect from him regularly going forward, he will be worth the fee. Because if that’s what Alisson can do consistently going forward, Liverpool will have signed a 25-year-old goalkeeper comfortably in the conversation as one of Europe’s top five on form and one who could, if he develops further, be rated alongside de Gea and Oblak.