What a difference it makes for Manchester City to go into these games with a top-level goalkeeper.
Both times last season they played well against Chelsea but were let down by their man in goal. Claudio Bravo was too easily beaten at the Etihad, as City lost 3-1, and here at Stamford Bridge Willy Caballero did not have his best game as City lost 2-1. Both times afterwards Pep Guardiola bemoaned how Chelsea managed to turn all of their chances into goals.
Not this time. With new Brazilian goalkeeper Ederson, City had someone to rely on, helping them to do what they could not last year and shut out Chelsea. He made important saves but just as importantly he dominated the box when Chelsea started to put crosses in. His distribution was as brisk as ever and one sharp first-half throw-out led to Raheem Sterling flashing a cross in from the right after an electric break. And, crucially, he was brave in coming off his line, heading and chesting the ball when he left his own box, even doing so unruffled as City saw out their win at the end. He is clearly not shaken by his nasty collision with Sadio Mane earlier this month.
Ederson was the lowest-profile of City’s big summer buys but he has made as big a difference to the City first team as anyone. He already has six clean sheets this season, four in the Premier League and two in Europe, not even counting the Liverpool game when he was stretchered off at half time. This was his fifth clean sheet in a row. He is fast closing in on Bravo’s record from last season of nine.
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Guardiola is certainly delighted to have a goalkeeper who means that his team can play like he likes, with the back-line on half-way, defending the biggest possible spaces, while not desperately vulnerable on one-on-ones to the ball in behind.
“At the end, playing like this we show we concede few,” Guardiola said in his post-match press conference. “It’s then four or five or six games in a row that with a clean sheet, playing in the way we are defending. That is what I like to see with my team. And today in the bigger stages, and the nice stadium and a nice team, we did it.”
That is the most important thing with Ederson. Because of how Guardiola teams play, the goalkeeper needs to be especially good, and especially athletic, to cover the whole of their half when the counter-attack comes.
That is why Victor Valdes and Manuel Neuer were so important to Guardiola’s Barcelona and Bayern Munich teams respectively, because they were able to bear that huge burden on their shoulders. Bravo clearly was not, but in Ederson he has found another man he can count on, to sweep up when City don’t have the ball and then to start attacks when they do.
For a signing which raised a few eyebrows at the time, at £35m on an uncapped goalkeeper with no Premier League experience, he is proving himself to be another crucial part of the Guardiola system.