A big call may have been made by a brave manager last Summer after Pep Guardiola quickly made his mind up about the style of play he wished to implement leading to the departure of club servant Joe Hart. In keeping with his long term philosophy and focusing on playing from the back, using a goalkeeper not only confident with his feet but one that can seemingly and effectively operate as another outfield player of sorts, Pep Guardiola may have ruffled a few feathers in doing so but primarily asserted his authority from day one by wasting no time in replacing the man between the sticks with another number one that best suited his style. Consequently out went England’s number one on loan to Torino as he continues to quietly get on with business in Serie A amid rumours of a potential return to the Premier League next season and Bravo, Bravo – in came Claudio from FC Barcelona; a significant changing of the guard and the departure of a player that has been synonymous with the club’s success given his City trajectory started long before the clubs more recent success, arriving prior to City’s 2008 takeover.
On paper Bravo looked to be everything that City needed; well-planned and well-considered as well as a player that looked to have all the attributes necessary to not only help introduce a new footballing style under Guardiola but to also be a Premier League success given his well-documented achievements in Spain and at international level. Likewise from the genuine sadness and disappointment shared publicly by Barcelona fans across social media, it looked like what was La Liga’s loss was soon to be both Manchester City’s and the Premier League’s gain. Evidently Bravo’s arrival was always going to be difficult for some sections of the City fanbase to accept and would inevitably take considerable time to win over the club’s most loyal supporters still disgruntled at Joe Hart’s departure but with full faith in Guardiola’s fresh approach and at the start of what at first looked like the beginning of a much needed overhaul at the club, reluctantly or not the best thing for a new manager, new goalkeeper and new season was to get behind Claudio Bravo and a potential new dawn at the club – City fans did just that.
As we head into Gameweek 22 with over the half the season already played, you would think that based on Manchester City’s league standing and current form alone that any hopes of winning the Premier League this year have well and truly faded. From an ageing defence prone to leaking goals aplenty, many of them coming against title contenders, to a strike-force nowhere as clinical as it needs to be to win a league title the club have clearly not been firing on all cylinders this season. Whether it is down to a mental problem from above when it comes to squad determination and the team’s mental resilience to rise to an occasion during ‘big games’ or even see out a victory without conceding, City have most definitely lacked something this season and look a shadow of their former, dangerous self. Yet whilst there is no ‘I’ in team and it can be often seen as unfair in football to single out individuals for the fault of an entire team, it does go without saying that upon recent evidence although Claudio Bravo is not the only reason behind City’s under-par performances this season, individually all eyes are on the Chilean goalkeeper. With every slight mistake or glimpse of fragility that he may show, everybody is looking out for ‘Bravo’s next gaffe’ or predicting when his next under-par performance may come, making his start to life in English football one that he or Manchester City perhaps wouldn’t have wanted.
So where has it all gone wrong for Claudio Bravo this season and both how and why did one of the finest and most well-respected goalkeepers in world football become a Premier League laughing stock in the space of six months?
Well with so much impetus on possession based football and starting attacks from defence, Claudio Bravo will inevitably come up against some kind of comments, whether positive or negative as the puppet acting out Guardiola’s tactical approach on the pitch. Not only strikingly different to the likes of previous City keepers Shay Given and Joe Hart whose only role merely focused on stopping the ball from going in the net, but also many of the best performing goalkeepers in the Premier League, Guardiola wants his goalkeepers to be much more than a mere shot stopper and with a greater presence on the pitch comes a greater responsibility and even greater scrutiny when things don’t go to plan. Therefore with Guardiola’s footballing approach in mind, despite the criticism of such a different footballing style and beneath Bravo’s bad press of late, there may yet be some positives for having Bravo in net – especially when everything seems to click and does indeed go to plan.
Evidently Bravo’s willingness to play with his feet and his confidence in doing so bodes well for the future should City start to perform with a style of ply built in Guardiola’s image, but right now at least if there wasn’t a number of flaws in Pep’s masterplan clearly the club wouldn’t be in the position they are in to date. Likewise with the statistics stacking up thick and fast against Claudio Bravo and his individual performances, it is above all very difficult to criticise not just the Chilean’s City performances but also the amount of points that his lacklustre shot stopping showings have lost City so far this season.
No matter which way you to choose to look at it, the statistics certainly aren’t great for Claudio Bravo. Although two points better off than after the same amount of games played last season, Manchester City have conceded 5 goals more than the 21 goals conceded after the same amount of games last season. Assessing Claudio Bravo’s performance individually however and after being widely reported that the Chilean has now conceded 14 goals from the last 22 shots on target that he has encountered in the Premier League, Guardiola’s side have also conceded a goal from the first shot faced on four occasions in the club’s last seven matches. Likewise among goalkeepers that have played 15 games or more so far this season, Bravo ranks at 14th with regards to overall save percentage (57.41%) which certainly isn’t good enough for a team with Premier League title ambitions. To the neutral it may seem like early days in Bravo’s career and the former FC Barcelona man may still be finding his feet under Pep Guardiola. Nonetheless in footballing terms, there is no time like the present and in many ways the criticism that Bravo has been given is in many ways deserved.
Just like every Premier League new boy, whether it be a new player or new manager to the competition, by going against the grain and attempting to modernise traditional ways of playing and thinking about the English game, you will always and inevitably face numerous critics far and wide. But when a player’s’ performances on the pitch such as Claudio Bravo’s fail to live up to expectation of a new footballing style, let alone the mere basics of just being a reliable Premier League goalkeeper, you can therefore understand why the jury has quickly come out in their masses and why sceptical City fans already believe that in letting Joe Hart go for good, that the club have made a serious mistake in going forward.
Time, often a healer, may yet be on Bravo’s side with goalkeepers capable of playing well into their late 30’s but if his recent struggles continue for some time to come, for the good of his playing career who knows how long he will stick around? If he stays at City but continues to struggle at the highest level, either Bravo changes his style of play and focuses more on shot-stopping as opposed to passing and distribution or inevitably the club may end up changing his current situation for him by bringing another goalkeeper and forcing Bravo to the bench – or even worse out of the club. Always with one eye on the future at Manchester City, maybe signing Bravo was a planned move for the future in order to help future young keepers develop in his image at the club. However for the time being at least, it is Bravo and nobody else that is City’s number one and it is down to him to up his game or face a quick exit out of the English top flight back door; an unwanted fall from grace for any well-respected professional and a blot that he surely won’t want on his footballing CV.
For the good of his career, Bravo should stay in England indefinitely and attempt to rectify his consistent errors which undeniably put the rest of his teammates in danger. If Pep’s ideology begins to work as expected, a goalkeeper like Bravo would be beneficial to further implement his desired style of play but if Bravo continues to be unable to offer a much greater sense of reliability in shot stopping, then the future does not look very good for the former Barcelona man. In an ideal world, City fans would combine the feet and distribution of Claudio Bravo with the shot-shopping and decision making of Joe Hart and with City might actually have the perfect goalkeeper under Pep Guardiola. Yet for the skills which Bravo may excel in, he certainly falls short of other valuable qualities which make for an ideal Premier League goalkeeper and with this in mind, there is work to be done both on and off the pitch with Bravo to ensure he is the right man for the job both physically and mentally.
This is not to say however that the writing’s on the Bravo as above all, it is clear that despite everything he still stands a chance of being the perfect fit for a forward-thinking Manchester City – in the short-term as City’s first-choice keeper and in the long-term perhaps working in a mentoring capacity with a like-for-like, younger goalkeeper. For now though, as much as it may pain both Bravo and Guardiola, it may well be time for the two of them to have a much needed and love overdue ‘hart to hart’ and for the good of the club use Joe as a blueprint for getting the simple things right to at least help the club secure Champions League football this season.