Liverpool paid a world-record fee for a goalkeeper to fix the problem that caused the team to fall agonizing short in the Champions League last season.
With one last-minute save , Alisson Becker showed it was $85 million well spent.
The Brazil international came off his line and spread himself to block a shot from Arkadiusz Milik in stoppage time to ensure Liverpool beat Napoli 1-0 on Tuesday to advance to the knockout stage at the expense of the Italian side.
Ultimately, it was Mohamed Salah’s latest wonder-goal — an individual effort scored in the 34th minute — that was the difference between the teams on another atmospheric European night at Anfield. Yet it was Alisson who earned most of the post-match praise from Liverpool manager Juergen Klopp.
“The goalie made the save of the season,” Klopp said. “I have no clue how he made that save. Thank God we have him. If I’d known how good he was, I’d have paid double … I think nobody expected a save in that situation. It’s a goal, no?”
Liverpool finished tied on nine points with Napoli, and with the same goal difference and head-to-head record as its rival after a 1-0 loss in Italy earlier in group play. The English club finished above Napoli because of goals scored in group play — nine vs. seven — and was second behind Paris Saint-Germain, which won 4-1 at Red Star Belgrade on Tuesday.
Liverpool swept to the Champions League final last season on the back of its devastating forward line of Salah, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino, and an improved defense marshalled by $99-million signing Virgil van Dijk.
But goalkeeper was the big issue for Klopp and it showed in the final when Loris Karius made two huge mistakes in a 3-1 loss to Real Madrid in Kiev.
Klopp, once unwilling to pay big money for players, altered that policy when he signed Van Dijk in January and did the same in the offseason by bringing in Alisson from Roma. The result? Twelve clean sheets in 23 games in all competitions this season.
Salah is still delivering at the end of the field, too. Three days after scoring a hat trick against Bournemouth in the Premier League, he showed another example of both his strength and trickery with the winning goal. There might have been a little luck thrown in, too.
Napoli left back Mario Rui struggled all evening up against the Egypt forward and he was thrust aside as Salah received a pass from James Milner with his back to goal. Finding himself suddenly with room to maneuver, Salah ran at center back Kalidou Koulibaly and beat him by dropping his shoulder, leaving just goalkeeper David Ospina between him and the goal.
Salah looked up to see who was with him in the area and only he knows if his effort that squeezed through the legs of the diving Ospina and inside the near post was actually a misdirected pass. It was his 34th goal of 2018, 13th in all competitions this season, and ninth in nine Champions League games for Liverpool at Anfield.
“He’s a match-winner, a world-class player,” Milner said, “and he’s done it for us again.”
While the first half was tight, it was more one-sided after halftime as Liverpool picked off Napoli on the counterattack, with the Italian side needing a goal to advance.
Mane, in particular, was guilty of squandering three great chances, with Ospina saving one shot with his legs and the Liverpool forward twice shooting wide with only the goalkeeper to beat.
Alisson ensured Liverpool did not pay for its profligacy, standing tall then spreading himself to block a shot from Milik from point-blank range with the last chance of the match. Minutes earlier, Jose Callejon blazed over from close range at the far post with Napoli’s other good chance.