Well, where on earth to start with this?
In a nightmarish few months, It’s fair to say that Claudio Bravo has amassed a fair number of critics, a group that consists of, rather worryingly for him, large sections of his own fans. Some have even labelled his transfer as the worst Manchester City signing ever – though that’s clearly a slight exaggeration, given the other contenders for that accolade the Blues have had in the past.
Of course, the circumstances in which the Chilean was brought to the club definitely do not help his case. But he hasn’t helped himself – to put it kindly, some of his goalkeeping has been nothing short of calamitous.
The replays make awful watching and the statistics awful reading for Bravo, who produced another trademark error against Huddersfield on Wednesday night, letting the ball slide under his feet and into the middle of the goal as if he weren’t there. To say that this sort of thing is typical, after just five months in England, tells you all you need to know about how he’s settled.
He’s since been dropped from the Blues’ Premier League line-up after conceding six goals from six shots on target against Everton and Tottenham, and replaced by Willy Caballero, a player who most fans were nervous to see in the starting XI last year. How things have changed – even Bravo’s return to the squad against Huddersfield led to raised eyebrows, concerns that were soon justified.
There were suggestions ahead of the 2-0 win over Sunderland that Bravo might be in line for a recall, after Pep Guardiola’s praise in his pre-match press conference – but any idea that Caballero is back as the No. 2 was quickly quashed on Sunday afternoon.
Still, while the fans had reason to be worried by the Chilean’s inclusion against Huddersfield, they had no reason to act as large proportions of the home support did on Wednesday night. Ironically cheering his every save, including the most simple pick-ups, is not helpful.
Not only does it sap further confidence from the already trembling wreck that he must be psychologically, but it also reflects badly on the supporters of the club as a whole. What kind of fans mock their own players? One fan close to me triumphantly shouted, “maybe that save will give him confidence!” – just moments after deriding him with his fake jeers. Go figure.
That’s not to say Bravo’s performances have been acceptable. It’s undeniable that he’s been woeful thus far, and certainly not what you’d expect from a goalkeeper who played at Barcelona for two years prior to his arrival in Manchester. However, things like this aren’t going to get anyone anywhere. It may be difficult to pass up such opportunities for cheap laughs, but fans have just got to let the man get on with it.
And he is the man who needs to “get on with it” the most. You feel he desperately needs a match winning performance – or at least an excellent save to preserve a lead or keep his team in the game – to help convince some of his sceptics that he’s at least competent.
The worst part of this affair, however, is that you can’t exactly say that he hasn’t been given the opportunities to do just that. Looking back, he had a great chance to make a statement when he returned to the Nou Camp to face Barcelona in the Champions League. He was sent off after a silly mistake and City lost 4-0.
Obviously, hindsight is a wonderful thing, but many have since questioned the logic behind the signing, coupled with the unceremonious exit of fan-favourite Joe Hart. Guardiola, of course the man who instigated this goalkeeping rotation, uses Bravo’s distribution and ball playing qualities as his main justification – but unfortunately, it’s even hard to find evidence of this in amongst his chaotic performances.
Its even got to the stage where the idea of playing from the back has been so obsessed over, that whenever he receives the ball, the crowd starts to hum in anticipation of a mistake. At goal-kicks, opposition teams put three players up to the edge of the penalty area, but you can see that Bravo doesn’t want to go long, perhaps fearful of an earful from the manager. So he insists on playing it short, immediately putting his team under pressure.
It’s immensely frustrating from a City perspective, but it’s clear that the players, and of course Guardiola, will persevere with it – no matter how many cries of “just hoof it” rain down from the stands.
In addition, the supporters can’t blame every goal conceded on him. Granted, there have been some rather feeble attempts to keep the ball out, but a number of the shots he’s faced were more or less destined for the back of the net – yet they’ve still been pinned on him as outright howler.
More to blame for some of the goals would be the back four, who haven’t exactly covered themselves in glory either. John Stones, as talented as he clearly is, still has a long way to go to eliminate the mistakes from his game. With Nicolas Otamendi, the words “loose cannon” instantly spring to mind – as he goes wandering and dives into challenges.
The entire defensive unit have to take collective responsibility for the goals they concede, as with any team. But what is unusual in this case is that the fingers have been pointed at the goalkeeper a concerning number of times more often than normal.
The question is now whether Bravo can turn his start at City around and make a success of his time at the club. It’s looking unlikely, at best. In the coming weeks at least, he may be spared his blushes by the attacking prowess of the side, but many will fear for him when the upcoming run of games against Liverpool, Arsenal and Chelsea arrives.
That’s if Caballero is returned to the bench.
The wider problem now becomes whether or not City need to look for a new goalkeeper in the summer. The names that have been mentioned include Geronimo Rulli of Real Sociedad and Ederson of Benfica, but they both come from the same sort of environment that Bravo did and they could have similar impact – almost none at all.
Realistically, Jordan Pickford of Sunderland could be worth looking at – as he proved again with some good saves on Sunderland. Joe Hart would be welcomed back to the Etihad by the fans, but that door seems to be firmly closed by the manager.
Nonetheless, it is what it is. Claudio Bravo is a Manchester City goalkeeper until the end of the season at the very least. The only logical thing to do is for the fans to get behind him, no matter how half-heartedly that is done. There is huge potential for him to cause major frustration in amongst the supporters, and to voice this annoyance towards him is perfectly understandable, but the cheers need to be there to support him, not to patronise him.
Written by Thom Harris.
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