‘Unbelievable human’ Alisson inspires Liverpool’s extraordinary journey for unlikely quadruple

The most important goal of Liverpool’s season wasn’t scored in this season. Alisson’s most significant contribution wasn’t the penalty save from Mason Mount that ultimately won the FA Cup. It wasn’t a save at all. Today marks the anniversary, one-year to the day when the Brazilian became the goalscoring goalkeeper, soaring to head in Trent Alexander-Arnold’s injury-time corner away at West Bromwich Albion. A point became three. A top-four finish became feasible.

Without that, talk of a quadruple may have incorporated the Europa League or the Conference League but not the Champions League. It represented a far greater turning point in Liverpool’s recent history than winning their first FA Cup in 16 years. It highlighted the capacity for the extraordinary that Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool possess. When keepers are praised for their ability to deal with crosses, it rarely involves heading them in. “It was a magic moment,” said John Achterberg, the long-serving goalkeeping coach.

There have been many others in the subsequent 12 months, each reflecting Alisson’s excellence at the day job. Penalties are not actually his specialist subject, though there is case for arguing he represents such an intimidating presence that players miss; perhaps Cesar Azpilicueta, usually so precise from 12 yards, clipped the post because of a sense he had to find the corner to beat Alisson. Mount veered too far in the other direction but, painstaking as Liverpool’s preparation for Chelsea’s spot-kick takers was, Achterberg confirmed the final decision which way to dive rested with Alisson.

His greatest strength may be his judgment, which in turn reflects his personality. “He is really calm and clear in his mind,” Achterberg said. “Nothing fazes him. He is an unbelievable human being.” And if there was a hyperbolic element to that praise, Liverpool’s tactics can require that clarity of thought.

Alisson and Virgil van Dijk often look the two calmest men at Anfield, the Dutch defender coolly marshalling the offside trap, the Brazilian goalkeeper isolated in acres of room behind Liverpool’s high defensive line. He can be both spectator and star. Relatively few chances are created against Liverpool – only Manchester City’s goalkeepers have made fewer saves in the Premier League – but they can be disproportionately good opportunities. And some of his saves do not end up on the register: brilliant stops are then discounted when offside flags are belatedly raised.

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Caoimhin Kelleher, Adrian, Alisson Becker, John Achterberg and Jack Robinson

He has a capacity to psyche out strikers by being there; it is an invaluable asset and perhaps Marcos Alonso, often such an assured finisher, was guilty of a poor touch when presented with a fine chance on Saturday because of the Alisson factor. “He is a big presence,” said Achterberg. “The main thing is he is always calm and he can change his speed in a split second. He has such great reactions, but it is all about his decision-making.”

His manager can seem to double up as the president of his fan club. Klopp often hails him as the world’s best. Last month, in his MTV English, he said: “Ali saved our ass.” Which is one job description, especially when opponents escape behind Liverpool’s high line.

He can seem the king of one-on-ones. It is his defining attribute, but Achterberg added: “He is an amazing all-round package in every department. In each department he is either good or the top.” There may have been a hint of bias when Achterberg nominated Alisson as man of the match: rather, however, this felt another occasion when he made one or two defining saves in a narrow triumph.

Alisson Becker of Liverpool celebrates

For Liverpool, it completed an unlikely hat-trick. They have won three penalty shootouts in finals against Chelsea with three different goalkeepers in the last three years. Adrian, in the Super Cup, and Caoimhin Kelleher, in the Carabao Cup, were deputising for Alisson. Each showed the depth of Liverpool’s squad, but the most telling example of a player taking on another’s duties came when Alisson assumed the goalscoring mantle from Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane. It has been quite a year since then.

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