Man Utd v Liverpool: David de Gea & Alisson – how two keepers became Premier League stars
Bitter rivalry, begrudging respect and enthralling match-ups characterise Manchester United versus Liverpool contests.
But is there a more compelling duel than the one between United’s David de Gea and Liverpool’s Alisson – the two goalkeepers who shine brightest when it comes to preventing goals in the Premier League?
One has gone from loving “fizzy drinks and biscuits” to a Premier League title contender and the other is strolling around training as “the calmest man in town”.
Before a resurgent United host Premier League title chasers Liverpool on Sunday, BBC Sport looks at how two of the world’s top keepers honed their craft and asks just who is better?
‘Bringing out the rugby bags’
When Alisson, 26, arrived at Liverpool in July 2018 from Roma in a deal worth up to £66.8m, he temporarily became the world’s most expensive goalkeeper.
Moving to England from abroad, learning a new language and integrating into a new culture is hardly the easiest backdrop to finding your form.
Time, effort and rudimentary training sessions have been central to Alisson’s impressive start at Liverpool, meaning their Melwood training base has, at times, resembled an England rugby union practice session to prepare him for buffeting encounters with Premier League strikers.
“We have used rugby bags with Alisson,” Liverpool goalkeeping coach John Achterberg told BBC Sport. “We wanted to be sure he was clear about and mentally ready to deal with that physical challenge.
“You might not be aggressive as a person but you have to be on a pitch to deal with situations. It doesn’t happen every game but you have to create that movement, body position, and attitude to deal with it, like bouncing a player away.
“In the past, we had a defender in between the striker and goalkeeper. We haven’t now. Alisson deals with the player himself.”
The Brazilian has been far from infallible though. Errors at Leicester in August and against United in December were punished – two of four such mistakes that have led to goals, according to Opta.
“We talk to him about it [mistakes] but you don’t speak negatively because you have to prepare him mentally for the next game,” Achterberg added.
“He knows he made a mistake, I know it, the whole world knows it. It’s highlighted in the press, on social media and everyone tries to be negative. Being able to forget mistakes is the thing that allows you to play at the top. If you do the next thing wrong and the thing after, it kills the team.”
With his imposing 6ft 3ins frame, Alisson’s physique is very different from how it was as a junior in Porto Alegre with Brazilian Serie A club Internacional.
After abandoning attempts to play on the left wing, his progress as a goalkeeper at the Beira-Rio Stadium was initially hampered by his “smaller and chubbier” frame.
“He was technically very good but he was small for a goalkeeper and loved soft drinks and biscuits,” said Internacional goalkeeper coach Daniel Pavan, who worked with Alisson for eight years.
“At 15-16 years of age, he grew about five to six inches taller. From there he was playing more regularly and was capped by Brazil (at under-17 level), which helped get him started.”
‘The calmest man in town’
While Alisson may be establishing himself as one of the Premier League’s top goalkeepers, De Gea’s credentials are long-standing.
Featuring in the PFA’s Premier League team of the year in five of the past six seasons, he is also the first person to become United’s player of the year on four occasions. His start was hardly convincing, though.
Arriving in Manchester as a 20-year-old from Atletico Madrid in 2011 for £18.6m, his slight figure – and his unfamiliarity with the English game – made him a target for opposition players at set-pieces. Facing Rory Delap’s long throws against Stoke was something of a culture shock.
“It wasn’t easy for him,” said the club’s former goalkeeping coach Eric Steele.
“He had never seen someone like Rory Delap in his life. You don’t get those long throws in Spain and he didn’t know the Premier League then.
“We worked on familiarising him with opponents. So against Arsenal it was about preparing for plenty of cut-backs and shots through bodies, whereas at Stoke it was about how to come and catch or punch the ball.”