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'We know we can do it' - World's best goalkeeper Alisson talks up Liverpool's title chances

10:00 AM EST 11/8/18
Alisson composite exclusive
In an exclusive interview, the highest-placed goalkeeper in the 2018 Goal 50 discusses the Reds' Premier League hopes - and THAT 'Cruyff turn'

Alisson Becker looks back over his shoulder, back towards the Kop. "This place, eh?" he smiles. "Love it."

Winter has arrived on Merseyside of late, but Anfield is bathed in sunshine as Liverpool’s goalkeeper arrives for an exclusive, one-to-one interview with Goal .

We have come bearing gifts. A trophy to mark his place as the world’s best goalkeeper for 2018, as voted for by Goal's international pool of more than 50 correspondents from 42 editions across the globe.

"Nice!" he says, surveying his specially-commissioned glass illustration, though he is modest enough to add a "best in the world, really?"

He looks a man at home in these surroundings, someone settling nicely into life in a new country. 

His English is improving fast. "I can understand everything," he says, though a translator is on hand for the interview, just in case. 

"I’m better singing than talking!" he admits with a grin. Those who saw his initiation song for Liverpool, the Oasis hit 'Don’t Look Back in Anger', would agree.

On the pitch, meanwhile, things are going just as well. 

Liverpool are, along with Manchester City, setting the pace at the top of the Premier League and progressing well in a difficult Champions League group. 

And in conceding just three times in his opening nine league games, Alisson helped set a new club record. Defensively, the Reds have made their best ever start to a campaign.

Not a bad way to start your Anfield career, eh? "So far, so good," Alisson agrees, adding that "the best is still to come, I hope."

He reflects on his first visit here, with Roma for the Champions League semi-final, first leg back in April. Memorable from a personal perspective, forgettable professionally. 

He conceded five that night as Mo Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane ran wild but his memories, unsurprisingly, are not of the game.

"It was a very happy moment of my career," he says. "It was a very happy season, in which I experienced great things. 

"In that match, all I remember is the power of the fans and of the team we faced. 

"The quality of Liverpool had already attracted my attention from watching them on TV, but I was very, very impressed by what I saw on the field that night."

Alisson has already admitted that what he experienced that night helped make up his mind to move to Anfield in the summer. He was blown away by the ovation he received from the Kop, and by the energy and vibrancy of Jurgen Klopp’s team. 

Roma actually came close to turning that semi-final around – Liverpool, having led 5-0 in the tie, eventually prevailed 7-6 on aggregate – but there was no doubt in the goalkeeper’s mind that a move to England would represent a major step up. He left Italy with a heavy heart, but hasn’t looked back.

"It was a big thing, but I am happy with my decision," he says. 

Goal asks about the differences between Serie A and the Premier League. English football, of course, likes to sell itself as "the best in the world" – but is it really? 

How does facing, for instance, Sergio Aguero, Harry Kane and Eden Hazard compare to Paulo Dybala, Mauro Icardi and Lorenzo Insigne.

"Well, I believe the intensity is a little different," Alisson says. "During the matches, the opposing team will always offer you some danger. 

"In Serie A, in some games, although not always, the big team can control matches. It's a more tactical football, more studied. 

"There is more space to move the ball in the defence, but when you come to the offence, there is no space to create. That’s the difference for me. 

"Serie A football is focused on defence; every team is organised in this way. The Premier League is more about intensity. 

“In terms of quality, both leagues are very close, but here you have to be prepared for 90 minutes of full intensity.”

So far, so good, though, as the man himself would say. 

Alisson has not been overworked – Liverpool are better than most teams at denying their opponents shots on target – but has already made significant contributions. Saves against Crystal Palace, Brighton and Chelsea, for example, came at crucial times and earned his side valuable points.

There have been bumps in the road, of course. An error at Leicester cost a goal and led to inevitable 'Alisson Blunderland' headlines. Cruyff turns in your penalty area, he learned, are best avoided.

"Yes!" he agrees. "I believe that [good] footwork adds something extra to a goalkeeper but a goalkeeper first needs to defend, to have good positioning. 

"Then, after that, he can help the team carrying the ball, which is something I have always enjoyed doing ever since I began my career back at Internacional. 

"Here, in Europe, I could do it more because of the style of the teams in which I've played. 

"Liverpool are a team which works the ball from the back, so it’s important that the goalkeeper can also be part of that."

Alisson was, by his own admission, always destined for a life in sport. It's in his blood. His father played in goal, his mother was a handball player, while his older brother, Muriel, plays with Belenenses in the Portuguese Primeira League.

Muriel, he says, remains his "great idol" in football, but as a wide-eyed youngster in Brazil, Alisson was always keen to learn.

"I always liked to watch goalkeepers," he says. "Watch their styles, their strengths and flaws, to learn something and improve.
"From my childhood, I always looked to Taffarel. He’s our biggest goalkeeping idol in Brazil from the 1994 World Cup, when we won on penalties in the final. 

"In the 1998 World Cup semi-final [against Netherlands], he also saved a penalty kick; both are key moments. 

"He had technical quality, perfect positioning, so he's a goalkeeper that always inspired me. 

"Also Gianluigi Buffon, he, for me, is one of the best in the history of football, if not the best."

Alisson came face to face with Buffon during his time in Serie A, of course, and could do so again later this month when Liverpool travel to face Paris Saint-Germain in a crucial Champions League clash.

So, who are the current goalkeepers the Reds' No.13 admires, we wonder?

"I like [Jan] Oblak; he’s one I follow very closely,” Alisson reveals. "And [Marc-Andre] Ter Stegen. Both of them are greats. 

“There are others, but at this point, these are the ones that are showing more. 

"Very high technical level, very high concentration level too; they are raising the competition level among us goalkeepers. 

"It’s a healthy competition to see which of us will be the best at the end of the year."

For 2018, Alisson can legitimately claim to have won that battle. 

Aside from his Goal 50 success, he can look back on a Champions League semi-final, a £65 million (€73m/$83m) transfer to England and a year in which he firmly established himself as Brazil's No.1, ahead of Manchester City’s Ederson.

Alisson and Ederson share a good relationship, but with Liverpool and City’s rivalry growing by the week, one wonders if that may change. 

Brazil’s squad, of course, is littered with players from both clubs – Alisson, Fabinho and Roberto Firmino from Liverpool; Ederson, Fernandinho, Danilo, Gabriel Jesus from City – as well as the likes of Willian, David Luiz, Lucas Moura and Fred from the other Premier League contenders. 

Those players regularly share private jets to and from international matches, so does the conversation ever turn to the title race?

"Sometimes!" smiles Alisson. "When we’re on national duty we’re team-mates, but obviously we talk about it. 

"This rivalry is important so everyone can grow, so it's also important for the Brazilian national team. We play in the highest level in the Premier League, so keeping this high level of competition is key. 

"We talk, sure, and we know how hard the race for the title is going to be. But we know we can do it. It isn't easy, but we'll keep up our good work and look to improve every time."

And with that, he’s gone, awards tucked under his arm. 

Liverpool will hope that collective achievement can follow individual glory for their impressive goalkeeper. 

Then, there really would be no argument as to who is the best in the world.

The Goal 50 is an annual award that both recognises and ranks the world's 50 best footballers of the preceding 12 months. Chief editors and correspondents from Goal's 42 editions around the world all cast their votes, with candidates judged on their level of consistency over the previous year of action, their big-game performances, footballing legacy and the success of their teams at both club and international level.