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Alisson and Lloris face final challenge after testing seasons

 

Alisson Becker won the goalkeeper of the year award in the Premier League during his first year in England

Madrid, Spain | AFP |  Alisson Becker became the world’s most expensive goalkeeper last summer just as Hugo Lloris was celebrating the peak of his professional career.

While new signing Becker posed for pictures at Liverpool’s Melwood training ground, Lloris was still in the after-glow of the World Cup, five days on from France’s 4-2 victory over Croatia.

Yet neither enjoyed the moment for long. Less than three weeks after Liverpool paid Roma 75 million euros ($83 million) for Alisson, Chelsea added another five million on top to sign Kepa Arrizabalaga.

And Lloris has spoken since about the “emptiness” he felt as soon as the dust had settled from Moscow. “I remember I needed one day to stay in bed and just stop,” said Lloris. “I had to disconnect a little bit.”

Or Alisson will have capped a remarkable debut season by winning the same trophy Liverpool surrendered to Real Madrid one year ago, largely due to the mistakes of his predecessor, Loris Karius.

– ‘Accident serves as a lesson’ –

For both Alisson and Lloris, the road to Madrid has not been smooth but, in particular, for Tottenham’s captain, whose tumultuous season began with a drink-driving charge in August, that earned him a £50,000 fine and 20-month ban.

By the end of the Champions League final between Tottenham and Liverpool on Saturday, Lloris might have won the game’s greatest prize for his club, 10 months after claiming the most prestigious one for his country.

“It was an accident that serves as a lesson,” said Lloris. “I made a mistake.”

On the pitch there were errors too, enough of them to put his place in doubt, and then pivotal saves, without which Spurs might have missed out on qualifying for next season’s Champions League, let alone winning this one.

In Europe alone, there was the man-of-the-match display against Borussia Dortmund in the last 16 and, in the quarter-finals, the early save from Sergio Aguero’s penalty, that would have given Manchester City an away goal and control of the tie.

But he also recklessly rushed out to set Barcelona on their way to a 4-2 win at Wembley and was then sent off against PSV Eindhoven, who then snatched a late equaliser.

“During a season you know there are always highs and lows,” Lloris said on Monday. “You just have to try to be ready to be at your best in the most important moments.”

When Lloris signed for Tottenham in 2012, some questioned why France’s captain, and a goalkeeper widely regarded as one of the most promising in the world, was joining a team with its feet firmly planted in the Europa League.

“If I comment, it will echo the other side of the Channel,” said France’s sceptical coach Didier Deschamps.

And perhaps Lloris would have left were it not for the arrival of Mauricio Pochettino, with whom he has forged a close bond.

“Hugo is one of the best keepers in the world,” Pochettino said in October. “He’s our captain and there’s no doubts about him.”

Supporting, rather than selling, struggling players has been a key trait of Pochettino’s time at Spurs, in part perhaps, because the club’s financial limitations have given him little choice.

– Best defence in the league –

But Liverpool could afford to be more ruthless, even if the club identified Alisson months before Karius’s blunders.

The younger brother of Muriel, who plays in goal for Belenenses in Portugal’s Primeira Liga, Alisson, along with Virgil van Dijk, has transformed Liverpool’s defence into the best in the Premier League.

“If I knew he was this good, I would have paid double”, said coach Jurgen Klopp in December, after Alisson’s late save against Napoli prevented Liverpool from an early exit.

The 26-year-old has made mistakes too. Against Leicester in September he was robbed of the ball by Kelechi Iheanacho and against Manchester United in December, his fumble allowed Jesse Lingard to score.

But he retained the confidence of both Klopp and the fans, not because of hard-earned status like Lloris, but due to a firm belief in his talent.

After testing seasons for two esteemed goalkeepers, only one can enjoy a final flourish.

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