Alisson was dissecting a first mistake as Liverpool’s goalkeeper when he revealed his philosophical side. “The secret of the wise man,” he said in September, “is to learn from the errors of others.” What applied to a moment’s hesitation at Leicester is also true of Liverpool’s approach to a second Champions League final appearance in two years. This time confidence is rooted in the foundations of Jürgen Klopp’s team as well as its front line.
Defeat in Kiev last May did not trigger Liverpool’s £65m investment in a replacement for Loris Karius. Inquiries had been made in January about the Roma keeper’s availability. The final did, however, underline how vulnerabilities – goalkeeper and strength in depth in Liverpool’s case – can be exposed at the defining moment. Addressing the two were priorities last summer for Klopp who, when reviewing the calamitous defeat by Real Madrid, said: “Accept it and learn from it for next time.” Next time has come around fast, thanks in no small part to the contribution of the keeper from Novo Hamburgo.
Put simply, Alisson is a principal reason why Liverpool have an immediate opportunity to right the wrongs of 12 months ago and secure a sixth European crown. They would have been eliminated from the Champions League in the dying seconds of the group stage but for the 26-year-old’s crucial save from Arkadiusz Milik in the 1-0 victory against Napoli, a game Liverpool had to win in December after three away defeats.
Without his commanding stops from Lionel Messi, Jordi Alba, Philippe Coutinho and Luis Suárez, the semi-final second leg against Barcelona would not have entered Anfield folklore as a historic comeback but a cruel lesson in the power of an away goal. Alisson, in keeping with every Liverpool player, refused to be denied on that unforgettable night.
The second-most expensive signing in Liverpool’s history has had a similar effect as the first – Virgil van Dijk – on the vast and vital improvement of a defence that conceded 22 Premier League goals this season compared with 38 in 2017-18. The champions, Manchester City, conceded 23. Alisson, like Van Dijk before him, has brought an unfussy authority to Liverpool’s backline, securing the Golden Gloves award in his debut season in English football. His 21 clean sheets in 38 games eclipsed the club record of 20 set twice by Pepe Reina. Only Petr Cech, with 24 for Chelsea in 2004-05, has kept more in a Premier League campaign.
Photograph: Andrew Powell/Liverpool FC via Getty Images
Alisson’s ability to brush off mistakes has also been a notable feature of his first season at Liverpool. It reflects that philosophical nature and his upbringing as the great-grandson of an amateur league goalkeeper, the son of parents who kept goal for the works football team and the school handball team, and as the younger brother of another professional goalkeeper, Muriel. He can be erratic with his distribution and made three errors that led to goals in the Premier League. But none cost his team a point. Hugo Lloris, Alisson’s opposite number in Madrid, made one error that led to a goal and it resulted in Tottenham’s 90th-minute defeat at Anfield in March.
James Milner was among those struck by how quickly Alisson, who had a good grasp of English before he arrived at Anfield, assimilated on and off the pitch. “Coming to a new league is never easy,” the midfielder said. “It’s a new lifestyle and you are getting used to the weather and things like that, but he’s been unbelievable. How he is around the place, how good he is on the pitch with his feet and with the saves he makes. Every single player makes mistakes and sometimes a keeper maybe feels a bit different because mistakes often result in a goal but, if he makes a mistake, it doesn’t faze him in the slightest. He remains confident and continues playing as if nothing has happened. That’s so important. He’s been unbelievable for us.”
The Brazil international, who will be involved in the Copa América being played in his home country after the Champions League final, will give Klopp and Liverpool a reassurance against Spurs that was lacking against Real. That may sound harsh on Karius given he suffered concussion on that lonely night in Ukraine when Klopp’s wife, Ulla Sandrock, was compelled to leave her seat to console the keeper’s distraught mother and girlfriend. But competing to land the biggest prizes in football is an unsentimental business, as Klopp confirmed when the subject of Karius’s concussion came up during Liverpool’s pre-season tour of the US.
The Liverpool manager had been oblivious to the consequence of Sergio Ramos colliding with his keeper until Franz Beckenbauer telephoned him out of the blue three days later. “What did you think when [the medical report] came out?” Klopp asked a few journalists. “Be honest …”
“It was an excuse,” was the reply.
Klopp: “Yes. But it was not. It’s the truth. The problem is that people still don’t believe it. And we bring in a new goalkeeper and people think we don’t believe it as well, which is not true. If Alisson was on the market and we’d won the final, we would have gone for him because he’s the goalkeeper we want.”
Liverpool have learned for next time.