Why Claudio Bravo's Manchester City debut was not as bad as it seemed

It is an unfair reflection on Claudio Bravo that his arrival was an unpopular one at Manchester City. It was nothing to do with the talents of the 33-year-old Chilean that his transfer brought about disappointment from fans, but the fact that it signaled the unceremonious exit from the club of two time Premier League champion Joe Hart, banished to Torino so Guardiola could employ a goalkeeper who was good with his feet.

Bravo’s debut was not the best either, but again, this was another unfair reflection on his contribution, born out of a misunderstanding of his role in the team. Admittedly, Bravo’s handling was remarkably poor. He dropped the ball straight onto the toe of Zlatan Ibrahimovic to allow Manchester United back into a derby that City had controlled. He did the same thing two minutes later, but was saved by John Stones, and was lucky to remain on the pitch after a poor challenge on Wayne Rooney in the penalty area.

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Although it may sound ludicrous, the actual goalkeeping, as in saving shots and catching crosses, should be put in a wider context. It was very poor and nearly cost his side, but his overall contribution to the set up of the team was far more important than merely saving shots.

Pep Guardiola’s ideas are often harebrained, and are too often labelled as genius without a proper understanding of whether they would work at a lower level, but his transformation on the role of a goalkeeper could be one of his most innovative and critical ideas that he has implemented since he moved to Bayern Munich and onto Manchester City.

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Joe Hart was not bad with the ball at his feet, by goalkeeping standards, but Bravo showed himself to be in a different league to the Englishman, and explained why Guardiola rattled so many cages to bring him in at the Etihad.

When City were on the ball, Bravo was often thirty yards or so from his own goal, playing with the ball at his feet, passing the ball out. Admittedly, the passes he was playing were not the most difficult, he’s not Xabi Alonso after all, but his position high up the pitch effectively meant that City had another defender on the pitch when they were attacking. This meant that the player on the ball had ten other options to pass the ball to and keep possession, one up on the usual number that the opposition are used to defending against.

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This system completely perplexed Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United. Adding another player into the mix made it impossible for any player to know whether to mark a player or press the ball. In the end, they did neither, and Manchester City dominated the game. The sheer amount of space they had all across the pitch started with the high up position of Bravo causing United a problem they did not expect.

The general attitude to Bravo’s performance, though, was negative, focusing on the mistakes he did make rather than the positives he brought to the team. Chris Sutton summed up the classic British attitude on Match of the Day 2, saying that ‘keepers were there to make saves and not play football. Bravo may not have done the fundamentals of being a goalkeeper perfectly, and he cost his team for it, but by being able to play football from the back, he massively swung a game that should have been tight in his team’s favour.

He may drop a few more clangers across the course of the season, and he is far from perfect, but in Bravo, City have an advantage that very few will acknowledge. Maybe Pep is right after all.

Featured Image: All rights reserved by craig ballantyne

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