Liverpool and Atlético Madrid will go head-to-head in the Champions League round of 16, and it will be a tie defined by two players.
Obviously there’s a lot of attacking talent on display and some very successful players too, but the key men for both sides just might be the ones standing between the sticks; goalkeepers Jan Oblak and Alisson.
The Slovenian Oblak has long been considered the finest goalkeeper in the world having joined Atlético Madrid in 2014. Alisson has emerged over the last couple of years as a genuine contender, however. The Brazilian has paired with Virgil van Dijk to turn Liverpool into one of the most brutal defensive outfits ever, one to rival Simeone’s best sides.
The likes of Marc-André Ter Stegen and Thibaut Courtois are also worth mentioning in the same bracket as Alisson and Oblak. But, as the pair are about to face-off in the Champions League we’ve decided to have a look at their seasons so far to see who is playing better right now and thus, which of these two stoppers can claim to be the best in the world.
Jan Oblak has played 30 games this season across La Liga and the Champions League, totalling 2,676 minutes. He has been an ever-present for Atleti who are currently fourth in La Liga. In contrast Alisson has played just 22 times for a total of 1,915 minutes as a calf injury kept him out for two months at the start of the campaign. Liverpool powered on without him, however, and are running away with the Premier League, sitting 25 points ahead of second-place Manchester City. As a result of their differing minutes, we will be primarily using per-90 metrics to compare them.
The bread and butter of any goalkeeper is their ability to save shots. Well here we first have to figure out how many shots they have faced. Across league and the Champions League, Jan Oblak has faced 2.83 shots on-target per-90 minutes, making an impressive 2.19 saves per-90. This puts his save percentage at a solid 77.38% as he has conceded 0.74 goals per-90.
By contrast Alisson has faced 2.92 shots on-target per-90, saving 2.49 per-90 for an utterly absurd save percentage of 85.27%. That ridiculous number is made even more impressive when you see he’s conceded just 0.42 goals per-90 this season. Despite playing eight games fewer than Oblak, Alisson is just three clean sheets behind (11 to 14) the Slovenian for the season.
Additionally, Alisson has faced no penalties whilst Oblak has faced one, which was missed. Alisson has made one error leading to a shot this season whilst Oblak has made two, with one of those leading to a goal away to Real Sociedad, where his weak save allowed the ball to bobble nicely to Nacho Monreal, whose shot then blasted in off Oblak’s face. Ouch.
Goalkeepers have to dominate their area as well as save shots and historically Oblak has been excellent at this. This season he has caught 0.27 crosses and made 0.30 high claims. Alright numbers, but slightly less than Alisson who has 0.28 caught crosses and 0.33 high claims per-90. But where we really see Oblak’s fall is that in 2018/19 he had 0.47 caught crosses and 0.49 high claims, and going further back to 2017/18 those numbers were even bigger at 0.58 and 0.63.
Alisson is the first goalkeeper to keep 10 clean sheets in the Premier League this season.
He’s played 18 games. pic.twitter.com/qOZQJU3mJe
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) February 15, 2020
Oblak has made 0 standing catches this season, 0.07 smothers and has 0.20 punched clearances per-90. Alisson meanwhile has 0.19 standing catches, 0.19 smothers and 0.28 punched clearances per-90.
Oblak’s 0.07 keeper sweeper actions is also well below Alisson’s formidable 0.66 per-90. With the exception of Alisson’s sweeping, neither stopper excels at claiming (this season, anyway) but the Brazilian is just ahead.
Oblak has always been a throwback goalkeeper in that he eschewed the modern trend that regained popularity with Victor Valdés, that of goalkeepers being playmakers, and is just as likely to hoof it long as anyone else.
So it’s no surprise that his 4.20 accurate goal-kicks per-90 is well behind Alisson’s 5.26. The Slovenian has also attempted 21.52 passes per-90 compared to Alisson’s 29.66, completing just 11.87 whereas Alisson’s has completed 25.14 (a completion rate of 84.8% vs. Oblak’s 55.2%).
Coming back to totals for a second, a good illustration of the stylistic difference between both men is that Alisson has attempted just nine fewer passes (631 vs. 640) than Oblak, despite playing over 700 fewer minutes.
Alisson has as many assists (1) as he has conceded goals in his last 11 Premier League games.
You shall not pass. 🧙 pic.twitter.com/rBEBsBX69m
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) February 15, 2020
Moreover, Oblak has attempted 14.33 passes into the opposition half, completing 5.72. Meanwhile Alisson has only attempted 5.08, completing a paltry 1.64. Liverpool do play direct a lot, but rarely from their goalkeeper – although Alisson has the only assist between the pair of them with his long-range bullet to Mohamed Salah against Manchester United.
That assist was part of Alisson’s drive to get play started again quickly and keep Liverpool in quick transitions. The Brazilian has attempted 5.40 throws per-90 minutes and impressively completed all of them. Meanwhile Oblak has completed just 2.39 of the 2.42 he has attempted.
Last season, Alisson vs. Oblak (vs. Ter Stegen) was a genuine debate to be had over who was the best goalkeeper in the world. However this year Oblak (and Ter Stegen, even with his two assists) is not performing up to his level from 2018/19, whilst Alisson hasn’t lost a step from last season, and even with his injury, he is comfortably outperforming his rivals. The best goalkeeper in the world, bar none.