Premier League

Alisson v De Gea: The truth behind the debate

 • by Mark Thompson
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Liverpool and Manchester United have a long and intense history. In the Premier League era, the two have grown to be close in titles, although in the past decade the pendulum of competitiveness has swung one way and now the other.

These days, however, they are no longer the league table rivals of old.

The most feverish competition between fan groups, then, has moved into proxy wars, outside of the matches themselves. At the moment, it’s the clash of keepers; Alisson Becker vs David de Gea.

Right, let’s settle it then. Which set of fans has the best man between the sticks?

Your fate is in their hands

The pair, statistically, are neck and neck.

David de Gea has faced shots worth 28.91 expected goals, according to Football Whispers’ post-shot xG model (which takes into account where the shot is aimed, as well as where it’s taken from). Taking away own goals, De Gea has only conceded 24 goals this season.

Alisson has, well, faced a far smaller amount of expected goals than De Gea. He’s faced shots worth 12.32 expected goals and conceded six.

So the Spaniard has saved 4.91 expected goals; the Brazilian, 6.32.

That doesn’t mean that Liverpool’s stopper is officially better than United’s, necessarily. Let’s spool back a season.

Unfortunately for settling arguments, the two are neck and neck again.

Roma conceded only 28 goals from 40.04 post-shot expected goals last season. Alisson played 37 of the Giallorossi‘s 38 league games last season, making it two seasons in a row in which he looks on course to save around 12 goals more than expected.

De Gea almost exactly matched that in 2017/18, with United conceding 28 from 40.61 post-shot expected goals.

Alisson was off in Brazil, away from the watchful eye of xG, before that, and so there the comparison must end.

Kick ‘em to the curb

But modern goalkeepers aren’t just about their hands anymore. Far from it. For what it’s worth, Alisson has given one of the better reasons for why goalkeepers dwell on the ball, which regular fans might not quite understand when a striker is bearing down on them.

“I am working on playing with my feet so I take risks with the ball at my feet because I am waiting for options,” he said in September.

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“I am waiting for the centre-backs to produce an option, I’m waiting for the full-backs to appear as well; hoping that a space for a pass will appear at the last moment.”

On pure pass completion rates, there isn’t much to separate the two keepers. Alisson completes longer passes at a rate of 46 per cent, a few percentage points ahead of De Gea’s 44 per cent. They both complete virtually all of their short passes.

What is radically different is how many of each that the two make.

While United’s keeper attempts 18.1 long and 7.3 short per game, Liverpool’s very modern approach sees Alisson’s split at 11 vs 16.9.

His shorter passes might be easier in theory, but they may also be under more pressure than De Gea’s, as Liverpool try and play out of opposition presses.

So, once again, there’s not a lot to choose between them. This may be highly frustrating for the more fervently partisan sections of Liverpool and United’s fanbases but, unfortunately, that’s just the way it is.

It’ll be down to the match at Anfield, then, to sort out the bragging rights. De Gea usually brings his A-game when United face Liverpool and Alisson has been in superb form of late for the Reds, so the battle of the keepers should be one to keep a close eye on.

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