At first glance they were minor incidents, the kind that can easily pass unnoticed during the cut and thrust of a Premier League victory.
A smart save from a free-kick and a pair of defensive headers under pressure. Not defining moments, but vital nonetheless as Liverpool escaped Selhurst Park with three points on Monday night, their second Premier League win of the season safely secured.
Generally, you get what you pay for in life, and Alisson Becker and Virgil van Dijk show the same is true of football. Big signings, big impact. No wonder Jurgen Klopp was smiling.
The Reds boss had pumped his fist as Alisson, his new £65 million ($83m) goalkeeper, shuffled across to beat a Luka Milivojevic free-kick away from danger early in the second half. Not the most flashy of saves but, at 1-0, a crucial intervention, capping a more-than-assured performance from the 25-year-old.
“What a goalkeeper!” Klopp said when asked by a Brazilian TV reporter to assess Alisson’s performance, post-match. He was laughing, but he meant it. He and his staff have been blown away by the new man’s presence, training and personality. Liverpool went big for him, and they reckon their judgement is already proving spot-on.
The same goes for Van Dijk, whose towering late headers at Palace helped first to maintain Liverpool’s advantage and then to extend it. The Dutchman’s handling of Christian Benteke, so often a thorn in the Reds’ side, was good enough to see the Belgian striker substituted 20 minutes from time; soon after, Van Dijk’s huge win against James Tomkins in his own penalty area allowed Mo Salah to set up Sadio Mane for the game’s clinching goal in stoppage time.
Again Klopp was effusive in his praise. “I don’t know a lot of defenders in the world that can defend Christian Benteke 100 per cent of the time, clearly and without a foul,” he said. “It was very important that Virgil was there with that kind of presence.”
The German knows that in Alisson and Van Dijk – and, to extend the theme, with Naby Keita too – his club have made game-changing signings, buys which will take Liverpool up a level. You spend big and you spend well, and the rewards are immediate.
“Quality costs a specific price,” Klopp would go on to say. “With cars it’s the case, and with players too.”
Much has been made of Liverpool’s summer spending – mainly by Jose Mourinho, in fairness – but, so far at least, their approach has been justified. Fenway Sports Group, often criticised for frugality by supporters, have accepted the need to pay big fees to land top targets while the presence of Klopp as manager, and a much-needed return to the Champions League, has enabled them to go after a better calibre of player.
For six and-a-half years, the £35m ($45m) purchase of Andy Carroll stood as a club record. In a little over 12 months, Liverpool have matched or exceeded that price on six separate occasions, recruiting players of stellar quality and impressive character to create the kind of side Klopp craves – young, hungry, dynamic, pacey, and with scope to get better under the German’s guidance.
Crucially, each of those six signings – Alisson, Van Dijk, Keita, Fabinho, Salah and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain – are aged between 23 and 27, all of them arriving at Anfield for their peak years. The future looks as bright as the present.
It was telling that, particularly in the cases of Alisson and Van Dijk, there was a single-mindedness to Liverpool’s pursuit. They were identified, wooed and, eventually, landed. Even when the moves ran into difficulty, there was no chance of the Reds walking away from the table.
They waited six months to secure Van Dijk, with Klopp regularly having to explain away poor defensive showings and a lack of genuine depth at centre-back. Liverpool played at Brighton last season with Emre Can and Gini Wijnaldum in a back three, remember.
Given the way rivals have struggled to find big-money centre-halves – think Victor Lindelof and Eric Bailly at Manchester United, Antonio Rudiger at Chelsea or Shkodran Mustafi at Arsenal – their judicious approach makes sense.
Van Dijk, on and off the pitch, was worth the wait. Ask Joe Gomez or Trent Alexander-Arnold about his influenc and they could talk for hours. The Dutchman leads the way, with words and with actions. He’s probably the best centre-back in the Premier League already, and the best is yet to come.
As for Alisson, the hope is that he will have the same kind of impact, that he will fix the Reds’ last ‘clear’ weakness. The early signs are hugely promising – even if drawing conclusions after 180 minutes of competitive football is risky – with the former Roma man’s footwork, communication and positioning all impressive so far. The art of being a goalkeeper in this team is to do very little, but do it very well. Klopp and his staff believe Alisson has the mentality, concentration and ability to succeed where Loris Karius failed.
Liverpool’s defensive record, generally, has been improving for months. They have not conceded a Premier League goal at Anfield since February 24, and will be seeking to extend that run against Brighton this weekend.
And with Alisson and Van Dijk on form, they’ll be expecting to do so. Welcome to the new Liverpool; expensive, stylish and solid. You get what you pay for, after all.