Though they clearly rank as one of the top clubs in the Premier League, the past few years for Liverpool have oft been riddled with sour goalkeeping. Never has it been more apparent the Reds are snake-bitten when it comes to the position than during the Champions League Final in May, when Liverpool lost to Real Madrid 3-1 largely due two massive mistakes by Loris Karius.
Intent on changing the guard, Liverpool paid a world-record transfer fee for Alisson Becker last week, shelling out a gigantic sum for the Brazilian goalkeeper who’s spent his last two seasons at Roma. After shuffling through a lackluster lineup of net-minders for years, Liverpool will all of a sudden employ the most expensive one in the world.
Karius’ career will likely always be defined by that dreary day in Kiev, but to evaluate how much of an upgrade Liverpool are paying for, a look at the 25-year-old’s larger body of work is a must. Karius appeared in 19 games for the Reds last season, and though Liverpool were third in the Premier League in clean sheets by the close of 2017/18, he wasn’t great.
When comparing Karius’ production last season with Alisson’s, it becomes abundantly clear why Liverpool made such a transfer. In virtually every stat you can find, the Brazilian ranks superior. Taking into account the mandatory caveat that Alisson played nearly twice as many games for Roma during 2017/18 with 34 caps, Alisson’s 92 saves loom large compared to Karius’ 28.
Really, the only area where Karius ranks ahead of his counterpart is in goals conceded. The German conceded just 14 goals in 19 caps last season — good for a 0.73 ratio — which is a few ticks better than Alisson’s mark of 0.79. However, another stat, saves per goal, implies that Alisson was facing many more shots on goal than Karius was. For every goal Alisson gave up, he made about 3.41 saves — Karius made just two saves per goal conceded. Karius had more clean sheets per appearance, but again, we can conclude Alisson was being attacked more often. For what it’s worth, Alisson had a distribution accuracy of 83 percent, 11 percent better than Karius.
It’s a bit tough to compare two players when one played so many fewer games. To get a better feel for how Alisson ranks against a talented goalkeeping counterpart, let’s take a look at Manchester United’s David De Gea. Though he had a paltry World Cup for Spain, De Gea is considered one of the top goalies in the world. It should encourage Liverpool fans that Alisson is quite a similar player.
Alisson played in three fewer games than De Gea last season, yet he made more saves and completed one more clean sheet. Their saves per goal are about the same (3.41 to 3.46) and they conceded the same number of goals (27). Alisson’s distribution accuracy is 20 percent higher as well.
Perhaps none of this is surprising. If Liverpool are paying almost double the amount Manchester City paid for Ederson last summer, they’d better be getting a world-class player. They likely are, but the earth-shaking acquisition only amplifies the question: how much can a goalkeeper really be worth?
There’s probably no version of this signing that doesn’t end up as an overpay. The nature of these huge deals is that even if a player like Alisson plays to his massive potential, the amount of money the club paid is still just so high. But according to Transfermarkt, Alisson is one of the most valuable goalkeepers in football, worth £54m. That ranks fourth among all goalies. Good value doesn’t come cheap.
Another aspect of this acquisition that must be discussed is that if feels rather reactionary. It’s safe to assume that as soon as Karius made those two blunders in the UCL Final, Liverpool had their minds on a new goalkeeper. As much as it seemed as if the Reds were intent on fielding him for another year, the reality is that despite whatever quality Karius brings, there was no scenario where they could bring him back (if you type “Loris Karius” into YouTube, the first suggestion that comes after his name is “mistakes”).
Surely there might have been a cheaper option on the market, but could any goalkeeper come with as much security as Alisson brings? With the whiplash Liverpool fans felt last May, perhaps the biggest signing ever for a goalkeeper is exactly what they need to feel confident in their team again. After all, Liverpool ranked 19th in the Premier League for saves last season. It might be an overcorrection, but that doesn’t mean it won’t bring great value.
Of course, the arrival of Alisson almost undoubtedly means a departure for Karius. With the end of the transfer window as close as it is, and with the amount of baggage Karius appears to be carrying, what’s next for the German? Impossible to say at this moment, but perhaps a move back to the Bundesliga is in store. A club where the spotlight is a bit dimmer might be best.
Nonetheless, Liverpool have their goalkeeper of the future. It’s an expensive one, indeed, but this may be the most recent lesson in the need to spend to win.