Brazil have the best goalkeeping duo, as Alisson, Ederson impress
"Tite has a big problem," Alisson joked. In truth, it's a problem all coaches would like to have. With less than six months to go until the 2018 World Cup in Russia, Brazil's manager has to choose between two of the best goalkeepers in the world.
Together with Alisson's former Roma teammate Mohamed Salah, who has wowed at Liverpool, Manchester City goalkeeper Ederson has been the most influential signing in the Premier League this season. In awe of his performances, it's understandable that many have been shocked to find out he has just one cap for his country.
The guy keeping him out of the No. 1 jersey must be pretty exceptional and guess what? Alisson doesn't disappoint. He's a fine goalkeeper; the best in Serie A this season. And that has been a pleasant surprise for Roma fans, who lost the best keeper of last season, Wojciech Szczesny, when he moved to Juventus over the summer.
An €8.5m buy from Internacional 18 months ago, Alisson now looks an absolute bargain. It wouldn't be at all surprising if, come summer, Roma football director Monchi finds a world record offer for a goalkeeper on his desk amid reported interest from PSG and Liverpool.
Now Ederson fans will be asking: Is Alisson really that good? Has he been as transformational as Ederson? Is he changing the role of goalkeeping in Serie A to the same degree Ederson is in the Premier League? But this isn't an article about who is better. It comes down to preference, and right now Tite prefers Alisson for Brazil.
Tite was blown away by what he saw against Atletico in September's 0-0 draw in the Champions League, and he wasn't the only one. Diego Simeone couldn't believe what he was seeing either. Atleti laid siege to the Roma goal, but nothing got past Alisson. He made nine saves on the night -- NINE -- including a clutch stop to deny Saul in the 90th minute, which Alisson considers his most "special" save of 2017.
"We've got to congratulate the goalkeeper. He had a great game," Simeone said afterwards.
The point that Alisson got Roma that night proved crucial in them improbably topping the group of death of this year's Champions League. It was one of three clean sheets Alisson kept -- the other was against Chelsea at the Olimpico -- and it mattered that he was the keeper who left the biggest impression in a group that included Thibaut Courtois and Jan Oblak.
The Atleti game was no exception, either; with Alisson it is the rule. Roma have defended much better since then, their defence is currently Serie A's best and there have been three games when Alisson hasn't even had a save to make. When Roma have needed him, however, he has come up with the extraordinary.
After one particular save against Bologna's Adam Masina in October, Alisson had to tell the pundits in the Sky Italia studio to leave the comparisons with England legend Gordon Banks and the iconic diving flick to deny Pele at the 1970 World Cup alone. The Masina save sealed another clean sheet for Roma. Mindful of it, Wednesday's Gazzetta dello Sport nicknamed Alisson "Mister 50%." It's not the catchiest moniker in the world, but they went with it because Alisson has kept a clean sheet in half of Roma's games this season: 12 from 24 in all competitions.
Even against Juventus in Turin, Alisson could consider himself unlucky to concede the only goal of the game to Mehdi Benatia. The goalkeeper first stops Giorgio Chiellini, then thwarts Benatia from point-blank range and it's only at the third bite of the cherry that the Moroccan manages to beat him. There was nothing more Alisson could do. At 6-foot-4 he makes the goal look so small.
Advanced analytics underline his brilliance this season. Using the post shot xG metric, Colin Trainor has shown that of the shots Alisson has faced this season he should have conceded 16.7 goals. Instead he has allowed just 11, which is so phenomenal it's hard to think Alisson can sustain it for the entire season despite the fact he outperformed in the post shot xG metric, albeit to a slightly lesser degree, in each of his two seasons at Internacional.
Alisson.— Colin Trainor (@colintrainor) December 30, 2017
Roma picked up a GK with two great seasons under his belt. But he's gone even better this season with only conceding 11 goals out of the almost 17 post shot xG. No matter how good he is that rate is not sustainable to the end of the season. But he's obviously great. pic.twitter.com/mvv9b9xCEx
It was there that Alisson first came to Tite's attention. Clearly he spotted his talent early, inviting the then-16-year-old to train with the first-team while manager of Internacional in 2008. Tite's predecessor as Brazil coach, Dunga, also knew Alisson from working in Porto Alegre, where the young keeper sent the legendary Dida into retirement. It was Dunga who gave Alisson his debut with the national team.
Alisson has been part of the setup ever since though his status as No. 1 has not gone unchallenged in the media -- particularly last season, when he spent the year backing up Szczesny in Serie A. If he hadn't performed for Brazil in that time -- repaying Tite's faith with a big save at 0-0 in the 3-0 win against Argentina, another from Luis Suarez at 2-2 against Uruguay, two technically more difficult saves against Paraguay, and nine clean sheets in his last 11 internationals -- maybe Ederson would already be installed in his place.
But it takes big shoulders to carry that sort of pressure; knowing that everyone is waiting for you to make a mistake, and aware that the calls for Ederson to come into the team will grow louder.
"I overcame the scepticism from the start," Alisson told Globoesporte on Boxing Day. "I have always shown that I've got the credentials. It's not as if I've come out of nowhere."
Alisson is there on merit, and there are two conclusions to draw here.
One is that Roma must be doing something right. To improve Szczesny to the extent Juventus believe he could replace Gianluigi Buffon and now tease these absurd levels of performance out of Alisson is of great credit to Roma goalkeeping coach Marco Savorani and the competition of Lukasz Skorupski, who did very well at Empoli last year.
The other is Brazil's goal is in safe hands for the next decade. Alisson is 25, Ederson is 24 and Tite is a lucky man.
James covers the Italian Serie A and European football for ESPN FC Follow him on Twitter @JamesHorncastle.