The case of Claudio Bravo is an exceptional one in that I can’t remember a time since Sergio Agüero’s winner against QPR in which the Manchester City fanbase has been so united in its feelings towards a player. For Sergio it was complete and utter adulation; for Bravo, it is contempt.
Brought in to replace fan favourite Joe Hart in the summer, Bravo faced an uphill battle even before pulling on the No.1 jersey. An uncertain debut against Manchester United in which the Chilean gifted Zlatan Ibrahimović a goal and almost saw red for a lunge on Wayne Rooney was put down to nerves, but the 33-year-old has failed to convince supporters that he is up to the task with a series of gaffes in the 21 games that have followed. The latest error involved Bravo opening up a Tsangpo sized canyon between his legs for 19-year-old Ademola Lookman to poke through in City’s 4-0 loss to Everton at the weekend.
The former Barcelona stopper is beginning to reach Massimo Taibi levels of incompetence and the fans are frustrated. While many would love to see Hart return between the sticks when his loan spell at Torino expires, the fantasy is an unrealistic one given Pep’s insistence on building from the back. And it should be made clear that for most the problem is not with that philosophy, but with the goalkeeper Guardiola has chosen to execute it.
In fact, Bravo’s passing from the back has been impressive. Only Hugo Lloris can better his pass accuracy rate of 71.5% and the side’s build-up play has certainly benefited from the goalkeeper’s poise on the ball. But regardless of whether the identity of the modern goalkeeper is changing, I would argue that accuracy of passing (while important) is secondary to a keeper’s ability to prevent stop the ball from going in the back of the net and Bravo has failed miserably in doing that so far. Bravo has conceded 42.6% of all shots on target he’s faced in the Premier League – a worryingly high rate, and has seen 14 of the last 22 shots he has faced hit the back of the net. These stats make grim reading for City fans.
There is an argument that Bravo has been a victim of the high number of individual errors his teammates have made this term. City have made 9 defensive errors this season with 4 of them leading to a goal. And while I would agree that our style of play leaves Bravo vulnerable when we lose the ball, I believe that in many cases the keeper should have done better with the quality of shot directed at him. To name two examples, Willian’s goal in the 3-1 loss to Chelsea where Bravo almost told the Brazilian where to shoot and Marten de Roon’s header that gave Middlesbrough an injury-time equaliser should never have got past him.
Nevertheless, and while criticism is certainly deserved, perhaps we should be asking why Bravo is struggling so much. After all, the £17m signing is a Champions League and Copa America winner who is rated highly by fans of both Barcelona and Chile.
At 6ft exactly, Bravo is the joint shortest goalkeeper in the division. It may therefore come as a surprise to learn that the goalkeeper has an impressive claim success rate of 89%. Indeed this seems to be a strength of Bravo’s – he recorded even better rates of 95% in his final full season at Barcelona and 90% in the 2014/2015 La Liga campaign. However, while the numbers are impressive, the fact that Bravo has dropped the ball more times (3) than any other goalkeeper in the league suggests that the goalkeeper is still slightly uncertain when commanding his area.
Statistics show that City concede most of their goals from one on one situations and Bravo’s small frame seems to put him at a disadvantage in these situations. One of his main weaknesses is that he does not ‘make himself big’ enough when forced into such circumstances as Tom Davies demonstrated when he clipped the ball over Bravo to give Everton a 3-0 lead on Sunday. What makes things more difficult for Bravo is that Joe Hart was one of the best at it.
But overall the majority of concerns regard the keeper’s shot stopping. In his last two full campaigns at the Camp Nou, Bravo made 3.4 and 3.47 saves per goal, claiming 23 clean sheets from 37 league appearances in 2014/2015 and 16 from 32 the year after. In the 22 league matches Bravo has played for City so far, he has made just 1.18 saves per goal and has only 4 clean sheets to his name.
Whether Bravo is suffering a crisis of confidence or simply possesses too many technical flaws to succeed as a Premier League goalkeeper, both the player and Guardiola know that things must improve soon.