Liverpool: How Alisson replaced De Gea as the gold standard of goalkeeping

The last time it happened, nine years ago, Manchester United were Premier League leaders and Liverpool were the ones a distance away in fifth.

Pepe Reina found Fernando Torres wide on the left, but there was no real fuss over the goalkeeper’s pass given what happened next.

The striker dropped his shoulder and cut inside Michael Turner, manipulating a curling strike beyond Craig Gordon and into the top right corner to score the first in a 3-0 victory over Sunderland.

The goal came three minutes into that Anfield encounter on March 2010 and, on 93 minutes at the same ground on Sunday, Alisson became the first Liverpool goalkeeper to get a Premier League assist since Reina.

He marked it by paying homage to the Spaniard, who is now back in England’s top flight with Aston Villa.

Alisson had watched footage last week of Reina racing the length of the pitch to embrace David Ngog, who netted at the death in a 2-0 victory against United in October 2009.

So, when the Brazil international directed a precise 60-yard pass to Mohamed Salah, who held off Daniel James and slid his effort beyond David de Gea on Sunday, he mirrored that scene.

“I went to celebrate it like this because I saw Pepe Reina do that against United,” Alisson said.

Trent Alexander-Arnold called it “the icing on the cake,” explaining: “It was the fashion we did it in, Ali getting the assist which is unbelievable. There’s comparisons with one we scored about 10 years ago and then he’s ran up and celebrated like Pepe Reina did! It was a good way to end the game.”

Liverpool’s No.1 added the extra flair of a knee slide and while so much else was familiar in the joyous settings a decade apart, the landscape has shifted considerably.

It was unthinkable back then that there could come a point where United would be 30 points adrift of the Merseysiders, but that is now reality. It is Liverpool on the perch, looking down at United in distant fifth.

As Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was left to scratch around for slim positives post-match, the home fans thundered the “we’re gonna win the league” chorus for the first time this season, with Liverpool 16 clear at the summit with a game in hand.

There are multiple reasons the club’s 30-year wait for the title will end and one of them is the unshakeable brilliance of Alisson.

It seems a figment of the imagination that he spent 67 days nursing a calf injury sustained against Norwich City in the season opener given his commanding displays since his return in the October draw against United at Old Trafford.

The 27-year-old has been collecting clean sheets, with zero conceded in the last seven league games, which have come against five of the top-eight sides in the table.

Alisson celebrates his assist against Manchester United (Getty)

Alisson’s handling of shots on target is even more staggering, saving 93% of the last 41 he has faced in all competitions, which explains why the majority of Jurgen Klopp’s match assessments contain a nod to him.

When Liverpool’s goalkeeping coach John Achterberg started building his dossier in 2013 on the goalie nicknamed “Iceman” at Internacional due to his composure, he found “so many positives – his physique, how he commanded his area, his comfort at building play – but what immediately stood out was his decision-making.

“You can spend hours working on technical aspects, but you have to have the natural ability to read situations and react so that you make the difficult things look simple.”

Despite his obvious ability on the ball, the best bits of Alisson’s work is understated and can go unnoticed. Closing the angles, his reaction speed, forcing attackers to shoot quicker than they’d like because of his positioning and his supreme concentration doesn’t equate to Hollywood saves.

It means his big moments are hardly ever flash and often feels overhyped.

The talking down of his thwarting of Napoli’s Arkadiusz Milik in the 92nd minute of last season’s Champions League serves as a case in point.

Alisson keeps out Arkadiusz Milik last season (Getty)

Alisson swept up all the major goalkeeping honours last year and will deservedly do so again. He is the benchmark, the gold standard with the gloves.

On Sunday, he was pitted against David de Gea, who for so long was the undisputed best in his position in England.

United’s stopper made two top-shelf saves, with his feet to deny Sadio Mane and – even better –a strong hand to divert a Jordan Henderson hit onto the post.

However, the moment discussed most was his dropping of the ball under pressure from Virgil van Dijk, which led to the video assistant referee, Paul Tierney, disallowing Roberto Firmino’s goal for a foul on the goalkeeper.

Former United players Gary Neville and Roy Keane did not think De Gea was impeded, the latter saying: “He’s done this before, I think there’s a softness to him.”

The on-field referee, Craig Pawson, didn’t judge the contact as a foul either. Interestingly, when he was in the VAR hub at Stockley Park last month, the official allowed an Everton goal against United to stand after Dominic Calvert-Lewin had more of an impact on De Gea from a corner situation.

Alisson spoke exclusively to The Independent earlier this season

Pawson should have been empowered to look at the pitchside monitor on Sunday and make the call himself, but even setting aside that talking point, it was striking how much more pedigreed Alisson looked than his counterpart.

Only five of Liverpool’s players made more passes than the Brazilian, who had a 75% accuracy rate compared to De Gea’s 57%.

Twelve of Alisson’s kicks were in the opposition’s half and he had 53 touches of the ball. He had made more successful passes [23] than De Gea’s total number [21].

And the last of those was perfectly weighted and positioned for Salah to collect in his stride as he finished off United on the break.

Alisson often underplays his role in Liverpool’s metamorphosis into the dominant force domestically and on the continent. “I’m just a goalkeeper,” he shrugs. Roberto Negrisolo had it right though.

“This guy is a phenomenon,” the former Roma goalkeeping coach said.

“He is the No.1 of No.1s. He is worth as much as Messi because he is as important as Messi.

“He is the type of goalkeeper which can define an era.”

Read more: Alisson on family, his Champions League dream and writing his name into Liverpool legend

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