Liverpool goalkeeping conundrum - Whom should Klopp actually sign?
Liverpool's terrific run into the Champions League final last season was undone by a couple of unacceptable errors by Loris Karius in goal at Kyiv. The German was expectedly inconsolable after the final whistle as Real Madrid lifted the coveted trophy for the 13th time.
The Reds no.1 has improved over the past few months, almost making Jurgen Klopp think twice about buying a goalkeeper. However, the howlers in the UCL final definitely undid the hard work. While Karius could still be given a lifeline by Klopp to build himself back up, the club is trying to find a top goalkeeper in this transfer window.
Now, several top keepers have been linked to the club in the past few weeks. Atletico Madrid's Jan Oblak is one of them, who is known for having more number of clean sheets than the goals conceded. Another one is AS Roma's Alisson Becker, who has already earned the moniker of 'Messi of goalkeepers' for his ability. Recently, the likes of Bayer Leverkusen's Bernd Leno and Southampton's Alex McCarthy have been thrown into the mix but are less likely to be pursued.
One more name doing the rounds is of Stoke City's Jack Butland, more likely as a backup option. Recently, Barcelona's backup goalkeeper Jasper Cillessen has been linked only because of his relatively lower price tag. However, the chances of signing the Dutchman are less. Finally, Chelsea no.1 Thibaut Courtois is supposedly on the Reds radar and is another top keeper.
As one can see, the options are definitely enticing and each player comes with his own set of advantages and disadvantages. A keeper may not put in the same level of performances at Liverpool compared to his previous club, given the attack-oriented style preferred by Klopp and the nature of responsibilities. Thus, a keeper who will suit the Reds specific style is more important than his reputation.
Hence, let's take a look at which of the above goalkeepers should Liverpool actually sign.
Firstly, when we look at the basic goalkeeping ability and statistics, Oblak makes almost twice as many saves per goal when compared to the others barring Alisson. The Brazilian does make a healthy 3.41 saves per goal and also makes more saves per game than Oblak. Butland expectedly tops this department, given his extra work for being in a relegated team.
Oblak will be expected to keep more clean sheets and concede less as Atletico have arguably the best defence in Europe at the moment. While Roma did not concede a goal at home in the Champions League until the semifinals, they were not as watertight in the league, which reflects in Alisson's numbers.
Secondly, we look at the attributes one looks for in modern keepers, and things become interesting. Oblak's low stats could be attributed to the style of play under Diego Simeone, which does not require a sweeper keeper. However, in this department, Alisson trumps the competition.
The 25-year old has a superb distribution accuracy and pass completion rate with both over 80%. He made more forward passes per game than either Karius or Courtois, which highlights his sweeping ability. Klopp needs his team to play out from the back and Alisson proves to be the better fit in this regard.
Finally, we take a look at the attributes which are needed in the Premier League to cope with its physicality. Karius successfully punched the ball more than the rest but Alisson caught the ball more than the German, Butland, and Oblak. Liverpool keepers could use some decisiveness when balls fly into the box and Alisson provides that assurance. Also, the 25-year old won each of his aerial duels last season, which is a great asset in the PL.
Further, Alisson has the ability to execute a successful take-on as well, which means he will not be easily forced into a mistake when pressed by the opposition. Considering Klopp wants his team to play from the back, this is another important trait.
Preferences and Transfer Fees
Thus, looking at the data, Karius compares well with Courtois, which highlights his progress. However, Liverpool are looking for a top keeper and their no.1 still has some way to reach that point. The Chelsea no.1 will be vying for a return to Spain if he leaves the Blues due to family reasons. Hence, a move would be unlikely.
Butland does look like a good keeper but he is more of a backup option and could still end up costing around £40 million. Thus, the actual debate is between Alisson and Oblak. Now, the statistics strongly point towards the Brazilian and he is a much better fit for the Reds system than the Atletico man. Oblak could definitely possess the same traits in his locker but the adaption period for Alisson will be shorter.
Further, the Slovenian's release clause of £89 million is a steep one. While Roma's sporting director, Monchi, is trying to push Alisson's price to a similar level, the chances are a deal can be agreed for less.
Hence, Alisson ticks every box for Liverpool's recruitment team and could be the key player who will aid a title charge next season. Now, before we conclude, let us take a look at how he compares with the gold standard in the PL, Manchester United's David De Gea.
Keeping in mind the data is from a different league, there is no doubt that Alisson's ability is close to De Gea, considered by many as the best goalkeeper in world football. Despite potential hiccups in adjusting to the league, Liverpool can put an end to their goalkeeping woes for the near future if they sign Alisson.