Claudio Bravo Never Stood a Chance

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You might have heard, but last week a couple of small teams in Manchester faced off and completely dominated the Premier League weekend. The biggest talking point from the game though is a bit bizarre. For the first time in my memory at least, the conversation around a huge win has been dominated by the negative performance of the winning team’s keeper.

Pep Guardiola’s reputation has been built around tactical innovation. As such it came as no real surprise when just a few months into his reign Pep has already taken up his first tactical cause in the Premier League; changing the way the British footballing public think about goalkeeping. Joe Hart is gone replaced by Claudio Bravo, with Pep citing his ability to play the ball out from the back. Peps first tactical crusade in the Premier League became about making sure your goalkeeper was just as good with the ball at his feet as at stopping the ball going in the net.

So on Sunday, when Bravo completed 44 passes (more than all but two Manchester United players) and helped City play what was at times scintillating football on the way to a win, you might think that the approach would be seen as a great success. But instead Bravo's culpability for United's goal and a potential penalty he was lucky not to give away have dominated the conversation. Many football fans and pundits have been quick to revert to the traditional position, generally something along the lines of  'it doesn't matter what you do with your feet; goalkeepers should focus on keeping the ball out of the goal'.

Despite the win the deconstruction of the Bravo style has already begun and in reality it was always going to happen. Football fans in the UK are fantastically traditional. They know what they expect from a football team, whether it is big burly centre backs playing 'safety first', hardworking central midfielders or fancy wingers, every position has its stereotype. When a manager comes along and tries to change this expectation, our first response is always to question it. The average British football fan would much rather see Bravo fail, and have their long held views confirmed, than have the game be innovated.

This love of tradition is one of the reasons the England team is so poor, and it's why any kind of new style in the Premier League is instantly criticised. Pep may be determined to change the game, but right until he wins something in England, every change he makes will be open to intense scrutiny.

James Fenn

Hill & Knowlton Strategies Search