At this point, it should no longer be surprising that Claudio Bravo goes through an entire football match without saving a single shot.
Andrea Ranocchia’s successful strike for Hull against Manchester City on Saturday means the last seven efforts on target faced by the Citizens goalkeeper in the Premier League have all hit the back of the net – a run stretching back to January.
But it is not feasible that this is a result of mere incompetence.
After all, this is a man who has earned 110 caps for Chile and played 300 games in La Liga, 70 of them for Barcelona, and who commanded a transfer fee of £17m when he moved to the Etihad in August.
He knows how to save shots; he’s done it loads of times. He’s just, at the moment, evidently choosing not to. The question is: why?
Pep Guardiola’s comments about Bravo after the Hull match were very interesting.
Rather than berating the keeper for his mistake, or even changing the subject, the City boss chose to launch a passionate tribute to the 32-year-old South American, saying he was the “world’s best” goalkeeper… “with the feet”.
With the feet.
In other words, if all the goalkeepers in the world became outfield players, Bravo would be the best one.
We know footwork is a skill Guardiola prizes highly. He jettisoned City’s previous keeper, Joe Hart, due to his perceived lack of ability on the floor.
Hart was one of the those old school kind of goalkeepers who was good with his hands. He was always catching this, parrying that – it was all about the hands with that guy.
But football, thanks to visionaries like Guardiola, is moving on. Hands are the goalkeeping tools of a bygone age. They will soon become obsolete.
This is good news for Bravo, whose hands have recently been no more effective than crepes.
In addition to letting in Ranocchia’s not-very-hard shot against Hull, he also conceded two goals (from two shots) in a 2-2- draw with Tottenham, plus all four Everton efforts on target in a 4-0 defeat by the Toffees.
Put another way, in Claudio Bravo’s last three league matches for Man City, they could have played without a goalkeeper and still achieved the same result.
But actually, that’s not true – they would have achieved an even better result without a keeper. Because if City had played without a keeper, they could have utilised an extra outfield player.
In other words, 11 v 10 on the pitch; a one-man advantage for 90 minutes; with a tiki-taka passing style.
And this, it suddenly becomes clear, is Guardiola’s Man City masterplan.
1) Emasculate and offload England’s best goalkeeper.
2) Replace him with a goalkeeper who cannot save shots but is brilliant with his feet.
3) Stop playing with a goalkeeper.
4) Turn the goalkeeper who is brilliant with his feet into an outfield player.
5) 11 v 10. Victory every week.
It’s an unorthodox, some would say demented, approach. But if anyone can pull it off, it’s Guardiola.
Rush of blood to the head
The Catalan genius has already mastered the art of putting midfielders in defence. Javier Mascherano at Barcelona was perhaps his most successful example; last week he was even trying it with Jesus Navas.
What’s more, the results of Pep’s zany ‘no-keeper’ experiment are improving. In Bravo’s first match where he saved no shots, City lost 4-0. In the next game, they drew 2-2. Then, on Saturday, they won 3-1.
Sure, the method may yet need some fine tuning, but Guardiola has already reached a point where he can potentially field a team of 11 outfield players and still win.
The 11th player would still be someone with some goalkeeping skills, obviously. Guardiola wouldn’t just dispense with a No1 and replace him with Kelechi Iheanacho – he isn’t a complete madman.
No, the 11th man would still need to track back on occasion and keep balls out of the City net, but he could spend the rest of the time up the pitch, using his feet.
City would essentially be operating what every football-playing British person over the age of six would identify as a “last man back” or “rush goalie” system.
For generations, rush goalie has been confined to parks and playgrounds (particularly in matches when an uneven number of players turn up, or when no-one can be bothered to go in goal) – nobody has dared to employ it at the professional level.
But Guardiola evidently believes he can harness the advantages of the formation (extra man on the pitch) to revolutionise – and conquer – the English game.
Most statistical analysis will tell you Claudio Bravo has been the Premier League’s worst goalkeeper in 2017, but for Guardiola he is the “best in the world” .
He is the best rush goalie in the world – and he is on his way to becoming Manchester City’s key player.
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