Ederson is proving to be Pep Guardiola's missing link at Manchester City

It was roughly 12 months ago that Manchester City’s campaign began to unravel. They had started in blistering fashion with six consecutive victories and appeared to be the frontrunners for the Premier League crown.

However, winter’s arrival coincided with a distinct downturn in fortunes, with a trio of defeats in December effectively ending their title aspirations. City’s final position of third saw them finish 15 points behind champions Chelsea.

The transformation of Pep Guardiola’s side into serial winners this season has been remarkable. Last weekend’s victory over arch-rivals Manchester United at Old Trafford increased their advantage at the summit to 11 points. They have triumphed in their past 14 top-flight outings, dropping only two points all campaign.

Even though we are not even at the halfway stage, City already have a vice-like grip on top spot. But to what can their sparkling form be attributed? In terms of personnel, Guardiola’s side is not dissimilar to last season.

Nevertheless, the players who have come in have made a massive difference. Kyle Walker, for example, who joined from Tottenham Hotspur, has brought pace and guile to the problematic right-back position.

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Undoubtedly, though, the biggest change has been between the posts. After unceremoniously dumping England number one Joe Hart, Guardiola signed Barcelona keeper Claudio Bravo, whom he believed would be perfect for the brand of football so synonymous with the Spanish manager.

However, Bravo struggled to adapt to the unique challenge of the Premier League and committed a catalogue of errors that cost City vital points.

As a result, and having decided that Bravo was not up to the required standard, Guardiola returned to the transfer market in the summer, splashing out £35 million on Ederson from Portuguese club Benfica. The fee made the Brazilian the second most expensive goalkeeper in history.

But to Guardiola, he’s been worth every penny. Whereas Bravo never looked at home in a City shirt, Ederson has fitted seamlessly into his new surroundings and looks every inch a world-class stopper. Crucially, he is comfortable enough on the ball to fulfil his manager’s instructions.

Guardiola demands his goalkeeper be able to retain possession at all times by finding a team-mate instead of kicking long. However, unlike Bravo, Ederson’s ability with his feet is not being undermined by handling mistakes.

There was no greater example of his growing importance to City than in the Manchester derby, where he kept the United onslaught at bay, late in the second half. In particular, the point-blank double save to deny Romelu Lukaku and Juan Mata was reminiscent of the stops made by his opposite number, David de Gea, against Arsenal one week earlier.

Comparisons with de Gea, who is arguably the best goalkeeper on the planet right now, are already being made. And at only 24, Ederson has time to elevate himself to the Spaniard’s level. His significance to this City side cannot be understated.

Last season, Guardiola’s attacking stars were let down by the side’s defensive frailties. But the strong foundations now in place – starting with Ederson – have enabled the likes of Kevin de Bruyne and Gabriel Jesus to play with freedom. It is why City are a class apart.

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