Following Liverpool’s 1-0 victory over Brentford, Alisson was presented with a goalkeeper shirt to celebrate his 100th clean sheet for the club.
The Brazilian, widely considered Liverpool’s player of the season, is not content with a century of shut-outs. “I hope I’m going to reach 200, 300, as many as possible,” he said.
It was music to the ears of Liverpool fans, but you would forgive Caoimhin Kelleher if he was not quite so enthused. The Ireland international, Alisson’s number two, has only made three appearances this season — two in the EFL Cup and one in the FA Cup — and has been linked with a number of clubs ahead of a potential move away in the summer.
According to sources who have spoken to The Athletic — all of whom wish to remain anonymous to protect their relationships — Kelleher would jump at the opportunity of becoming a No 1.
Liverpool do not want to lose him. Enquiries from Premier League clubs were knocked back last summer and Jurgen Klopp said last Friday that it would take “an extraordinary” offer for Liverpool to let him leave this summer, with Kelleher contracted until June 2026.
But there is also an acknowledgement that the player is at an age (24) when he needs to play, having only featured in 20 games in all competitions since his debut in September 2019.
There has been interest from Tottenham, Brighton & Hove Albion and Brentford, as well as teams across Europe. Clubs are aware of Kelleher’s situation but no formal offers have been made yet.
A goalkeeping domino effect is expected in this summer’s market, with Tottenham searching for a new first-choice No 1, Brentford’s David Raya set to move on with his contract expiring in a year and Aston Villa’s Emi Martinez linked with a transfer away. David de Gea is also yet to sign a new contract at Manchester United.
Caoimhin Kelleher, Liverpool’s pride of Cork
If a deal was to be agreed, it would seem unlikely to be a loan given Klopp’s comments last week and the fact that Kelleher is one of few sellable assets ahead of a summer where the squad is in need of significant investment. With the potential hole left by no Champions League money, there is an economic argument that it makes sense to cash in, although Liverpool would likely explore the option of inserting a buy-back clause into any transfer.
Ideally, Liverpool would like to keep Kelleher because it is difficult to find a No 2 with the quality he possesses — and one who is also happy to serve as a backup to Alisson.
Kelleher has an excellent relationship with Klopp, and the coaching staff have been impressed with his professionalism and temperament.
Selling Kelleher would require Liverpool to recruit a new No 2. Third-choice Adrian is out of contract in the summer but there are discussions about the possibility of another one-year deal.
The club has high hopes for young goalkeepers Marcelo Pitaluga — the 20-year-old had a successful loan spell at non-league Macclesfield earlier this season before suffering an ankle injury — and 19-year-old Harvey Davies, who has been a regular for the under-21s this season. But they are not ready to make a step up to permanent second choice.
So, what makes him special?
Kelleher’s lack of game time leaves a small sample size for scouts to analyse his ability, but from the data available he looks like a modern top-flight goalkeeper.
The Athletic teamed up with expert goalkeeping analyst John Harrison, who is the head of data science at goalkeeper.com, to break down the 24-year-old’s skill set.
“His first real strength has been his penalty stopping,” says Harrison. “In fact, only three goalkeepers currently playing in the Premier League have a better career penalty record than Kelleher: Fraser Forster, Jason Steele and Matt Turner.”
Kelleher has helped Liverpool secure four cup penalty shootout victories, most notably in the triumphant EFL Cup run last season when he saved two in the quarter-final victory over Leicester City. Although he didn’t save one in the final against Chelsea, he emphatically scored his own.
Kelleher has saved seven of the 28 on-target senior competition penalties he has faced, giving him a (way above average) 25 per cent penalty save percentage. The average rate for goalkeepers is 16 per cent.
Harrison also highlights his sweeping actions as another key attribute. In the three games he has played this season, Kelleher’s sweeping has prevented Liverpool from facing an additional 0.18 xG, according to his model. Liverpool already have the best sweeper-keeper in the division this season with Alisson (0.09 xG prevented per 90), but Kelleher is not far behind (0.06 xG prevented per 90).
Goalkeeper.com’s xG models, which calculate the probability of a goal occurring before and after any action a goalkeeper could potentially make, found Kelleher to be an above-average Premier League shot-stopper and shot-handler.
After analysing the 22 goals he has conceded, Harrison concluded none have been down to particularly weak goalkeeping.
“Looking back at the (2022) League Cup final victory, he saved 1.05 more shots than an average Premier League goalkeeper would be expected to,” he says.
Harrison has also designed a data model which charts one-v-one actions of Premier League goalkeepers since 2018-19. In the little action he has had, Kelleher has shown himself to be around average in that area.
Of the 22 goals conceded, 12 (54 per cent) have been one-v-ones, highlighting just how important this area is for a Liverpool goalkeeper given the team plays with such a high line.
“Alisson has been the best one-vs-one goalkeeper in the Premier League since his arrival in 2018, having saved 16.9 more one-v-ones than an average Premier League goalkeeper would be expected to. If Liverpool do look to sell Kelleher, they should target a backup goalkeeper who excels in this area,” says Harrison.
Kelleher’s distribution is another asset. His passing this season has allowed Liverpool to generate 0.07 xG in the build-up, more than the average Premier League goalkeeper would be expected to. Kelleher’s score of +0.02 xG per 90 is slightly higher than Alisson’s distribution score (+0.01).
“He is confident receiving the ball under pressure and playing short quickly and accurately, which is a big asset for a possession-dominant team who want to build up from deep,” says Harrison.
“His long passing, particularly out wide to his full-backs and wingers, could potentially be improved; he hasn’t shown quite the range or accuracy of some of the top distributors in the Premier League.”
What else could he improve?
Harrison highlights his cross-claiming as one area which requires work. The goalkeeper is not the biggest or as physically imposing as other goalkeepers, and this season Kelleher’s below-average cross-claiming has caused Liverpool to concede an additional 0.29 xG. That equates to a -0.10 xG per 90, significantly lower than Alisson (+0.10 xG), who is in the top three of Premier League goalkeepers in this regard.
“Liverpool fans may remember a hairy moment when Kelleher came for a cross against Manchester City this season and missed the ball completely,” Harrison says. “Luckily for him, City failed to convert the chance.
“Another example was against Wolves when Kelleher failed to deal with a cross which presented Raul Jimenez with a huge chance a few yards from goal, but Ibrahima Konate managed to deflect the ball away from danger.”
The lack of consistent selection makes Kelleher a gamble for any team that wants him to be their new number one. As Harrison says, “There is nothing like first-team match experience for a goalkeeper.”
Despite this, he believes Kelleher would fit in with many clubs’ style of play. “Given the rounded nature of his game and the strengths, he would suit a team that potentially wants to play a high line and wants to use their keeper in the build-up and to play out through pressure.”
(Top photo: Catherine Ivill/Getty Images)