Liverpool hail Alisson for saving their skin against Napoli

Klopp praises ‘incredible, unbelievable’ intervention to keep club in Champions League

There was a grin from Virgil van Dijk before giving his assessment of Alisson's contribution to Liverpool's victory over Napoli. "He was there to do his job," the defender said. Bear hugs and effusive praise could come from others. Van Dijk was, of course, correct, although a Liverpool goalkeeper doing his job so well, so consistently and so decisively feels a novelty in the context of Anfield's recent history.

The Champions League group decider was Alisson's 22nd appearance for Jürgen Klopp's team following his £65 million summer move from Roma. He had justified the expectation levels that soared with his signing long before Wednesday, when he earned Liverpool an extra £11 million in Champions League revenue with the 92nd-minute block that secured victory and a return to the knockout phase.

It may not have been the “incredible, unbelievable” save that Klopp, adrenaline still pumping, claimed never to have witnessed before and Arkadiusz Milik, the Napoli substitute, will rue the placement of a shot that could have transformed the night for two clubs. But Alisson, spreading himself, imposing himself and reacting superbly to Milik’s close-range opportunity, made all the difference for Liverpool. Again.

It was the same against Brighton early in the season, against Chelsea, Everton and Burnley, too. Racking up the points in Liverpool's pursuit of the Premier League title and the Champions League. The kind of keeper, to be blunt, Anfield has lacked for too long.

Defensive improvement

Van Dijk paid a more generous tribute to Alisson after highlighting he was merely doing the job that Liverpool bought him for. “The save was unbelievable,” he said. “You saw my reaction as well. It’s very important to have such a guy behind. Alisson is also part of the defence and I think we all deserve the credit we get. It starts up front. You saw against Napoli, obviously we have triggers to press and then make it difficult for them. If they come to our end then we need to be ready and we were.”

Liverpool’s defensive improvement under Klopp pre-dates Alisson but has accelerated with him. Wednesday brought a sixth clean sheet in the last eight Champions League games at Anfield. They have kept an outstanding 15 clean sheets in the last 19 home fixtures in all competitions.

The save ratio has improved markedly with Alisson. The Brazil international has a save percentage of 86 in the Premier League, the highest in the competition. Last season, under Simon Mignolet and Loris Karius, it was 64 per cent, the 19th. The six goals conceded in 16 league games this term equals the Premier League record. These are title-winning figures reminiscent of Chelsea's return during José Mourinho's first few campaigns at Stamford Bridge, and also the foundation for Liverpool's steady unbeaten climb to the top of the table.

That is why there will be apprehension in the manager's office at Melwood after learning Joël Matip faces up to six weeks out the defender having suffered a fractured collarbone against Napoli. With Joe Gomez and Nathaniel Clyne sidelined, the right of Liverpool's defence will be severely stretched should Trent Alexander-Arnold, also injured against the Italians, miss Sunday's home game against Manchester United and beyond.

Collective effort

Klopp rightly praised the collective defensive effort that underpinned the victory over Napoli and ensured their goalkeeper had to make one vital save. Alisson’s composure on the ball and command of crosses were, he added, equally important for the confidence of those around him. For Klopp’s judgment, too.

Like Van Dijk, who cost £75 million from Southampton, before him, Alisson was acquired after a lengthy, patient and difficult pursuit by Klopp, who jokingly claimed on Wednesday he would have paid double for the 26-year-old had he realised he was so good.

Klopp knew. Liverpool inquired in January about Alisson, who was the only candidate the manager had in mind to replace Karius both before and after the Champions League final. There was no deal to be done then or when Roma quoted £90 million in the aftermath of Liverpool's defeat against Real Madrid. Persistence and patience paid off again. Now Liverpool are capable of late dramatics at both ends of the pitch in European competition.

For Van Dijk, the twin challenge of Champions League and Premier League titles is one that has to be embraced. “It’s something we all want, it’s something we are going to give everything for,” he said. “We want to play on the highest level and the Champions League, other than the Premier League for us, is the highest level. We want to reach the maximum and hopefully do better than we did last season in the Champions League.

“You need to have dreams, you need to go for it, otherwise why would you be a footballer? It’s a great time to be a Liverpool fan or player. It’s tough but enjoy it and embrace it – these are the days you want to experience as a footballer.”

It fuels Van Dijk’s optimism to know his back is covered. – Guardian