Alisson isn’t just a great goalkeeper, he makes football more entertaining

In Depth

Alisson has begun his Liverpool career with three consecutive clean sheets, but it’s what he did with his feet against Brighton which showed why everyone should be glad he’s in the Premier League.

There are a few things that can happen in a football game that are guaranteed to bring a smile to everyone’s faces.

A referee or linesman falling over. A fan in the stands calmly heading a ball booted into touch right back to where it came from. A player getting hit by a ball in the nether regions – a moment which simultaneously provokes both a laugh and a wince.

And right up with there with any of those glorious escapes from the reality of however bad your team might be that day is a goalkeeper bamboozling an onrushing striker with a Cruyff turn or dummy to escape potential grave danger.

As much as anything, it provokes a feeling of relief. You see, as fans, we’re still catching on to the idea that just because someone decides to play as a goalkeeper doesn’t mean they aren’t also handy with ball at feet.

Alisson reminded us of how unfounded that fear is on Saturday, embarrassing Brighton’s Anthony Knockaert in Liverpool’s 1-0 win. And it was wonderful.

To paraphrase a popular meme, yeah, goals are cool, but have you ever seen a goalkeeper chip the ball past an attacker in a one-on-one?

 

It almost goes without saying that the stakes are much higher for a goalkeeper than an outfielder in moments like these, and there’s a case for arguing that applies even more to a Liverpool goalkeeper after high-profile errors from Loris Karius at the end of last season.

There’s a sense that the flick over the advancing player might be made easier by the fact that it’s Knockaert, a man for whom tricky forward play comes more naturally than timely interceptions, but conversely, the Frenchman might be the last person you want to target with such play.

In lifting the ball, there’s a reliance on Knockaert not to be taken by the question “What would I do in this situation and anticipate the play before even Alisson has committed to it.

Mind games

The downside is so much more significant than any potential positives, and this ought to elevate our opinion of the bravery involved in making the play.

One can only hazard a guess at how many thoughts are going through Alisson’s head throughout the process. How many times must he second-guess himself, asking “Am I really going to do this? Really? Now?”.

The loft on the touch needs to be perfect to keep possession, and there’s rarely an occasion where the keeper gains enough to make the risk-reward analysis pay off.

The best case scenario sees Knockaert scrambling back as Liverpool are handed the keys to a counter-attack without the momentum of a quick turnover. At worst, the Brighton player reads the keeper’s intentions and finds the net at a critical point in the game.

Even when it goes perfectly, you know you won’t be able to try it again for a long time.

It’s football’s answer to the skydive: the thrill of the first successful execution can’t be repeated, and even then your celebration must be restrained – after all, how outwardly excited can you be when you realise you’re essentially celebrating not failing.

However, if we look at things differently, we have a man who has forever dreamed of taking the glory at the other end of the field.

When Alisson sees Knockaert, he sees the player he might have become himself if the whole ‘goalkeeping’ thing hadn’t got in the way.

So, when you ask about the upside of trying something like this, your mistake is to judge it by sensible, logical standards. You’re missing the addition of heroism to the keeper’s personal headcanon, separate from the genre which comes with the match-winning save.

The big save from Pascal Groß later in the game is a highlight reel moment of its own, granting Alisson early praise and the kind of goodwill his predecessor arguably never received.

However, the piece of skill represents an opportunity to remove his shades despite knowing the risk of blinding himself with exposure to his own name in lights.

 

Alisson is not the only keeper to have pulled off such a move of late, and indeed some might wonder if he had been watching clips of Marc-André ter Stegen for Barcelona against Alavés.

On that occasion, the German raced out even further from his goal to deny Jony, and such circumstances are entertaining for what comes after as much as for the move itself.

There’s almost an insistence that your next touch much involve you calmly bringing down the ball or laying it off for a team-mate.

As a goalkeeper, you rarely get granted benefit of the doubt when in possession of the ball, and there can sometimes feel a need to cultivate an image in the moment.

Panic and hack the ball away after embarrassing an opponent and you’re back to being a keeper who temporarily got lost, rather than a master of all trades.

The second touch is a low-risk, high-reward of saying “I’ve got this under control” – almost the exact opposite of the analysis that goes into the initial piece of skill.

 

As a keeper, you’re almost celebrating the perceived reaction from the support. Many of us watch the game in the hope of witnessing something out of the ordinary, and there’s a tendency for high-profile and high-risk plays to capture attention when they fail as much as when they succeed.

We’ll still pay attention when we see Manuel Neuer outside his penalty area, but occasionally we’ll be just as excited when he fails as when he succeeds.

If football only ever involved people scoring when they were meant to and people doing all the things they were supposed to, it wouldn’t have such a huge following.

So, when someone like Alisson breaks the norm – even when he’s pulling off something which has little inherent value to the flow of the game, he’s giving us all something unexpected to enjoy whether he succeeds or fails.

If the latter happens, as it very nearly did, it will go down as the game where he failed. Which makes each break from the norm all the bolder.

 

By Tom Victor


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