Alisson v Ederson: The battle to be Brazil's first choice goalkeeper

Two weeks ago, with Manchester City looking for a winner in the dying moments of a surprisingly difficult Champions League last-16 tie against Schalke, Ederson launched a long, searching pass in behind the German side’s defence.

Raheem Sterling, as sharp as ever, cut in from the right and latched onto the ball before tucking it past Ralf Fährmann and just inside the post.

For most ‘keepers, you’d assume they were lucky to get an assist, that it was a long punt which fell kindly. But Ederson isn’t most ‘keepers. How many other number ones have you seen with passing compilations on YouTube?

It was, for the record, the second goal he’s set up this season. The other assist, direct from a goal kick, came against Huddersfield in a Premier League game in August.

Meanwhile, a couple of hundred miles away in the north-west of England, Liverpool were taking on Schalke’s Bundesliga rivals Bayern Munich.

The German champions, despite defending resolutely, were not offering much threat to the Reds’ goal – one of the few chances they did have, though, was laid on by a mistake from goalkeeper Alisson.

He dallied with the ball and was closed down, forcing him to play a terrible pass to Joel Matip, who was dispossessed. To Alisson’s relief, Kingsley Coman could only send his shot crashing into the side netting.

It was not the first time Liverpool’s £67m man has got himself into trouble this season. The mistake against Leicester in August – and on that occasion it led to Liverpool conceding – is the other example that springs to mind.

With their contrasting displays of footwork in the Champions League, the inevitable comparisons between the pair were awoken once more.

What is beyond doubt is that the reigning Premier League champions and their close pursuers have two of the best ‘keepers in the world.

For both teams, the signing of their current shot stopper proved transformative.

Claudio Bravo out and Ederson in made an immeasurable difference in City’s 100-point campaign last term.

And, despite those mistakes, few would argue against the case that Alisson has improved this Liverpool team. Jurgen Klopp’s side have 13 more points than they did at this time last year. And though that is clearly not down to him alone, Alisson’s contribution has been conspicuous.

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“He’s been unbelievable for us this season,” said James Milner recently. “I believe that he’ll be a massive, massive player for us going forward.”

And as if competing at club level at the top of the Premier League were not enough, the two are also direct positional rivals for their national team.

Whilst for many onlookers you couldn’t get a cigarette paper between the two in terms of technical quality, for Brazil manager Tite, Alisson is clearly the number one choice.

In light of Alisson’s high-profile errors this season and his rival’s consistent top-class displays for City, it is worth asking why Ederson barely gets a look in for the Selecao.

According to Fernando Martinho, editor of the Brazilian football magazine Corner, “There is a difference in the trajectory of the two. Ederson left Brazil very early. He never played for a big club here.”

Alisson on the other hand was brought through at Internacional, one of the two giants from the southern Brazilian city of Porto Alegre, and played over 100 games before being sold to Roma in 2016.

“He has been through the sieve of Brazilian public opinion, including journalists, who form opinions in a very regional way”, Martinho continues. “There’s a resistance to players who play in Europe without having played [for a big club] in Brazil becoming first choice for the Selecao.”

The other example he offers is of another pair of players from the Premier League’s top two; Gabriel Jesus and Roberto Firmino.

Like Ederson, Firmino left Brazil without having made a name for himself, whereas Jesus won the league with São Paulo-based side Palmeiras before making the journey to Manchester. Jesus started every game at the World Cup.

Victor Canedo, a journalist for Globo Esporte, agrees that Brazilian public opinion weighs heavily on managerial decisions and many fans would even prefer Tite to choose neither Ederson nor Alisson.

“The public,” he says, “like the goalkeepers who play in Brazilian football because they don’t watch Alisson or Ederson so much. They wanted Cassio from Corinthians [in the team]. Or Marcelo Grohe, who has just left Gremio for Saudi Arabia and who will be forgotten. The most in vogue ‘keepers in Brazil will always be requested [by fans].”

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There is also the simple fact that Alisson got there first and is yet to do anything to warrant being dropped. There was a near mix-up with the ball at his feet against Argentina in November and some discussion around the goals he conceded at the World Cup – but to point to them as clear errors would be exceptionally harsh.

The Liverpool player has conceded just six goals and has kept 20 clean sheets in the 26 games he has played since Tite took over as coach. In that same period, Ederson has only been capped three times.

For Leonardo Miranda, another columnist for Globo Esporte, Alisson’s position as undisputed first choice is a question of “hierarchy and preference.”

“Nobody has doubts about how good Ederson is,” Miranda adds, “but there is a consensus in Brazil that Alisson has played at a high level for longer and is a more complete goalkeeper than Ederson, especially in difficult games.”

Alisson has played in semi-finals of both the Copa Libertadores and the Champions League, Miranda points out, and despite not always being accepted by the Brazilian public whilst he was playing for Inter, has now cemented his place as number one in their eyes.

Regardless, Canedo feels Ederson should be given a chance to prove his worth, highlighting the different qualities the two possess. “I would rotate the goalkeepers”, he says. “Ederson is fantastic with his feet. He’s evolved a lot with Guardiola, but he already played like that at Benfica. He’s good between the posts as well, [but] maybe not exceptional.”

That, it seems, is where Alisson still just about comes out on top. In Tite’s team, Miranda explains, “The ‘keeper needs to use his feet, but the level of quality required is much lower than that at City, for example. Because of this, the fact that Alisson is first choice means Brazil are not missing out on anything.”

But the ex-Internacional man will still feel that Ederson is breathing down his neck.

Footwork is becoming an increasingly important weapon in a goalkeeper’s armoury and if Alisson makes many more errors, his place as Selecao number one could come under threat.

With Alisson aged 26 and Ederson still just 25, the amicable struggle for predominance promises to go on for years.

For Tite, it is a lovely headache to have.

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