Pep Guardiola’s ongoing project at the Etihad deservedly has Manchester City fans brimming with excitement for the future of this team, even if they are slightly underwhelmed at present. The signing of Claudio Bravo, however, has been his biggest mistake so far.
Bravo’s main issue is a genetic one which he cannot help. Being six-feet tall is relatively small in goalkeeping terms and it is exploited massively in the Premier League.
Andy King fired home from 25 yards in Leicester’s romp of Guardiola’s men and immediately, the finger was pointed at the new ‘keeper. It is quite paradoxical in that although it was his fault, he himself could not keep it out. What this means is that Joe Hart would have saved it not because he’s a better shot stopper, but because he’s five inches taller and would have been able to reach the ball.
When Willian scored at the Etihad, Bravo once again took the blame. Why didn’t he dive? He was going the other way and knew that his arms and legs weren’t long enough to cover the gap he had vacated for the shot. They are small margins but when you come under the cosh as goalkeepers do, you are often unduly punished.
One problem particularly with Bravo is his ability, or lack of, to deal with crosses. Ben Mee’s recent goal against City stemmed from the Chilean’s inability to deal with a corner effectively. Burnley, like many Premier League teams, are a physical outfit and make life difficult for opponents on set-pieces. Bravo flapped under-pressure and was made to pay.
The change from La Liga
It is a whole new change of culture for Bravo, who would have been used to teams trying to play intricate, technical football in La Liga, with less emphasis on physique. Iker Casillas was regarded as the best goalkeeper in the world by many, yet his rashness in dealing with deliveries from wide and his slightly perplexing decision-making went ignored. Goalkeepers for football’s “superclubs” get more protection.
The comparison with Casillas and Bravo is that both are relatively small and lightweight. Had Casillas ever moved to the Premier League, although he was a phenomenal goalkeeper with some of the best reflexes in the world, he may not have been able to deal with the physicality.
One solution would be to bulk-up, as David De Gea did for Manchester United. The only trouble is that De Gea is 6″4′ and therefore was never as reliant upon his athleticism because he could stretch across the entire goal. If Bravo piled on the pounds, the danger would be that it would be counter-productive, as it may make him slower in reflex situations than he currently is. It also wouldn’t stop him being bullied to the ball by a tree-like centre-forward because he will still only be six-foot-tall.
Guardiola remains adamant that Bravo will improve. Of course he will say this, and City fans should be supportive of his stance. In two seasons’ time, people will realise many of the initial disappointments were all building towards something special. But although he insists that Bravo will adapt to the Premier League, is there any reason why Joe Hart could not have adapted to his style? Surely it would have been easier to improve the passing of a professional footballer than it would be to make a footballer grow another three-inches.
This season, Hart has had a 69% distribution accuracy at Torino, compared to Bravo’s 74%. Bravo also had an average distribution length of 41m, six metres more than Hart’s average (35). But these numbers are comparable. They are not light-years apart.
If Hart had been given time to adapt to the new manager’s passing style, he could easily have been turned into an acceptable ball-playing goalkeeper. Guardiola wants his players to make mistakes from trying to play his way, because only by making mistakes do you become better at something. Bravo is making mistakes, but not as a result of the philosophy. That is the worrying factor.
Stick with it
The City faithful must forget hopes of a return for Hart. After all, the team is already half a season into the Guardiola project and to start the goalkeeping situation from scratch would effectively be a case of the manager publicly admitting to a glaring mistake he has made. He won’t do that. What he should be doing is working on the defence of the team because whilst Bravo has struggled, the defence in front of him has been shambolic.
Whatever you may think of Bravo, itt’s not his fault he was replacing a club idol. He may not be the ideal choice between the sticks for the time being, but he deserves to be given the time to turn things around; perhaps with some support from the fans and defence alike.