The last time Atletico visited Anfield, Diego Simeone compared his goalkeeper to Lionel Messi and Liverpool’s No.1 is no less influential, Neil Jones of Goal.Com reports.
When Liverpool and Atletico Madrid meet at Anfield this week, all eyes will be drawn to the sidelines.
Jurgen Klopp and Diego Simeone, two of football’s most charismatic and recognisable figures, will naturally command attention, but Wednesday’s game also offers the chance to see two rather more reserved characters operating at the very peak of their powers.
Alisson Becker and Jan Oblak might just be the two best goalkeepers in the world right now. Calm, collected and above all consistent, they are the standard-bearers for a position which is now, belatedly, being recognised as utterly vital to the hopes and ambitions of any football team.
The last time Atletico visited Anfield, in March 2020, Simeone compared Oblak to Lionel Messi. “He decides games,” he said of the Slovenian, who had repelled Liverpool time and again in that dramatic, pre-coronavirus Champions League last-16 tie.
Alisson, of course, did not play that night, and many believe that if he had, then it would have been Liverpool who progressed to the quarter-finals. The Brazilian’s replacement, Adrian, had a game to forget, culpable for two of Atletico’s goals in their 3-2 extra-time victory.
More than 18 months on, the tables were turned, with Alisson defying Atleti as Liverpool recorded a 3-2 victory of their own at the Wanda Metropolitano.
“He saved us,” said Klopp, and he will have been grateful for the 29-year-old at the weekend, too. Without Alisson, Saturday’s 2-2 draw with Brighton at Anfield may well have been worse.
Jan Oblak Atletico Madrid GFX
Few people are better placed to talk about Alisson’s qualities and character than Adrian, who trains alongside him on a daily basis. And speaking exclusively to Goal recently, the Spaniard offered an insight into what makes the Reds’ No.1 so good.
“As a goalkeeper you need to be complete, in all departments, and Ali is,” Adrian says. “He’s one of the most complete goalkeepers I’ve seen. He’s good with his feet, he’s calm, his distribution is great, his kicking is top, and then in goal his reactions, his composure, his body language, they’re all great. He is powerful, he has strength. He has everything you need to be a top, top goalkeeper.
“Consistently in the last few seasons, even before he came to Liverpool, he has been doing it. It’s great to work hand-in-hand with him every day, and to try to learn from him as well.”
This is something of a golden age for goalkeepers, with the likes of Edouard Mendy, Gianluigi Donnarumma and Emiliano Martinez earning plaudits, and big medals, this year. Veterans like Manuel Neuer and Samir Handanovic remain key for their clubs while others, such as Manchester City’s Ederson, are helping to reshape and redefine the role with their ball-playing ability.
“The position is probably more recognised than ever,” says Adrian. “We have great goalkeepers around the world, and especially in the Premier League.
“Football is a game which is about attractive players, scoring goals and attacking. The fans want to see goals scored, of course, but the back is just as important. You can see the importance of defenders, of goalkeepers, in the teams that win things. Keeping clean sheets is so important.”
In that regard, there are few better than Oblak, who joined Atletico as Thibaut Courtois’ replacement in 2014 and has made more than 300 appearances since.
His impact has been huge. Since his arrival, Atletico have never conceded more than 29 league goals in a season, and in his first full campaign as No.1, 2015-16, they shipped only 18, reaching the Champions League final for good measure.
Simeone believes he’s the best in the world, and when clubs, most notably Chelsea, began sniffing around him last year, the message from Atletico was simple; you either pay his €120m (£101m/$139m) release clause, or you stop wasting our time.
Alisson Adrian Liverpool quote GFX
Chelsea, who had erred when making Kepa Arrizabalaga the most expensive goalkeeper in history in 2018, chose to sign Mendy instead, for around a fifth of that price. It’s fair to say neither they or Atleti regret how things turned out.
Liverpool, too, would not swap their No.1 for anyone. “All we need is Alisson Becker,” Klopp has been known to sing in the past, and his players are similarly appreciative of their goalkeeper.
“He’s an important guy in the dressing room,” Reds coach John Achterberg says. “Everyone likes him.”
That was evident in the summer, when Alisson was one of three players promoted to the club’s captaincy group, following a team vote. He signed a new six-year contract in August, speaking of his desire to “win everything” with Liverpool once more.
Wednesday represents a big step, in that regard. Win and Klopp’s side are guaranteed a place in the Champions League last 16, with the chance to rest and rotate during their final two group matches – a significant benefit, with a run of 12 games in 38 days coming up after the next international break.
Atletico will have other ideas, of course. They will arrive at Anfield wounded by their defeat in Madrid a fortnight ago, and powered by the memory of that 2020 triumph. They need a result this time too; otherwise, they could be looking at a Europa League campaign in the New Year.
If they are to get one, then the chances are that Oblak will need to have one of his special nights again. He did it last time, but this time Alisson will be on guard at the other end. Two top-class operators at the top of their game.
It’s what Champions League nights are all about.