MADRID (AP) — The key to Liverpool’s Champions League success this year may just be in the hands of Alisson Becker.
Liverpool paid a record $85 million fee for a goalkeeper to sign Alisson from Roma at the end of last season after predecessor Loris Karius made several costly mistakes in last year’s final.
The Brazilian has so far proven his worth going into Saturday’s final against Tottenham at the Wanda Metropolitano Stadium.
“I can’t wait,” Alisson said. “Once we finished the Premier League, there were 20 days to prepare the final. I’m looking forward to playing this big game. It’s maybe the biggest game in my life.”
Last year, Liverpool faced Real Madrid in the final in Kiev but fell short of winning their sixth European Cup title, losing 3-1. Besides an injury to forward Mohamed Salah which took Liverpool’s main attacking threat out of the game in the first half, it was Karius who made the mistakes that cost the team.
Karius first had an embarrassing give-away that led to Karim Benzema’s opening goal, and he then failed to hold on to a long-range shot from Gareth Bale that sealed the Spanish club’s victory.
The 26-year-old Alisson, a starter for Brazil’s national team since 2016, fixed Liverpool’s goalkeeping problems in his first season with the English club, swatting away the uncertainty that surrounded Karius’ performances.
Alisson finished the Premier League season with 21 clean sheets, earning the Golden Glove award in his first attempt. No other goalkeeper had kept as many clean sheets in the English league since Manchester United’s Edwin van der Sar in the 2008-09 season.
But it was in the Champions League that Alisson really made the difference for Liverpool, producing a stoppage-time save against Napoli in the final group game to avoid early elimination.
After having already made great saves during the match, Alisson came up with a huge final stop to secure the 1-0 home win that sent the team to the round of 16, coming off the line and spreading himself to block a close-range shot from Arkadiusz Milik.
“I have no clue how he made that save,” Liverpool coach Jürgen Klopp said at the time. “Thank God we have him. If I’d known how good he was, I’d have paid double.”
Alisson played solidly in the victories against former team Roma in the last 16 and against Porto in the quarterfinals. He then was crucial again in the semifinals against Barcelona, keeping a clean sheet in the second leg at home to help the team to overcome a 3-0 loss in the first match.
There is, however, one more match to go.
More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/apf-Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports
Tales Azzoni on Twitter: http://twitter.com/tazzoni