Why Pep Guardiola was right in signing Claudio Bravo

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Arguably the biggest move of the summer for Pep as new manager of Manchester City was how he dealt with the goalkeeping situation. Joe Hart, a mainstay in the club’s title winning seasons was replaced by new signing Claudio Bravo. Pep shelled out £17.1m to sign the Barcelona goalkeeper. He cited the ability of Bravo to play out from the back as the main reason that he fit better in the system of Pep. The fans have responded differently with many hoping Pep recalls Joe Hart from his loan as the defence and Bravo have struggled so far.

Joe Hart had joined City from Shrewsbury seven years prior and made 266 appearances for Manchester City. During his time at City, he has been one of the best goalkeepers in the Premier League although he was prone to the occasional mistake. At the start of this season Gianluigi Buffon stated Hart was behind only Neuer and De Gea. Hart did make mistakes last season, notably against Norwich. He had his lowest save percentage of 66.4% for over seven years, since right at the beginning of his career. Premier League stats suggest in his 302 appearances he has made 16 errors leading to goals. Over the last three seasons, Joe Hart has not had such as impressive resume in terms of his passing ability. His 49% passing accuracy on 22 passes per 90 minutes was not the most impressive. Surely not helping his accuracy was that 75% of his passes were long. Also, Hart had a disastrous Euro 2016 after which even his England spot was in question. So Pep chose to move a keeper who did not fit his style, with under half of his passes reaching a teammate and a declining save percentage.

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Claudio Bravo took a more roundabout path to being a Premier League goalkeeper. After impressing in Chile he moved to Spain where he joined Real Sociedad. His time at Sociedad was successful and he parlayed that with a strong World Cup campaign into a move to Barcelona. In his first season with Barcelona, he was easily one of the best keepers in Spain. Many assumed that he was signed as a back up to the German Marc Andre Ter Stergen but he ended up starting more games than the German. FourFourTwo credit him with a save percentage of 80.53% with only two critical mistakes. Bravo is a far more accurate passer and uses more short passes than Joe Hart. Judging purely by last season’s performances coupled with the International tournaments over the summer, Bravo even purely on his goalkeeping ability was better than Hart. Add to the fact the coach was Pep Guardiola who wants to cram the whole pitch with midfielders, there is no doubt on who was a better fit at Manchester City.

But Bravo has had a shocking start to his Premier League career. Although, many goalkeepers find it difficult to adjust to the physicality and the direct football of the Premier League, Bravo is actually struggling to save even normal shots on goal. Of the last 22 shots on target against City, he has conceded 14 goals. His save percentage is under 58%, almost 20% less than Tom Heaton. Joe Hart who has been on loan at Torino has played a game less than Bravo but has far more impressive statistics. His save percentage is 70.5% with more catches and fewer drops. He has made one more error leading to a goal. His pass accuracy is down on the Chilean’s – 72.1 per cent to 64.5. Bravo has passed the ball 75 more times and also passes it short 15% more. Only Hugo Lloris has a better pass accuracy in the Premier League.

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The stats can be misleading though. Short passes are far easier to accurately complete than long passes. Bravo is also on a Manchester City team that has more ability than Torino. Bravo usually links up with his central defenders or the defensive midfielders with 68% of passes going to teammates in the defensive third. That is double the average of all the goalkeepers in the big three leagues. Manuel Neuer who is the best goalkeeper in the world has a save percentage of over 75% and he is also very good with his feet. On an average, he makes 33 passes a game with a success ratio of 85% which is quite similar to the stats of Claudio Bravo at Barcelona.

Pep believed Joe Hart was not the right goalkeeper for his system, it might have been a bit unfair on Hart, as the Englishman was never required to play a passing game and his passing stats are harmed by the amount of long passes he attempts. But in buying Bravo, Pep was getting a world class goalkeeper with experience and who could fit in his system perfectly. Instead Bravo’s form and confidence seems to have fallen off a cliff. Perhaps, the shaky defence in front of him is the issue. Sometimes, clean sheets will boost the confidence of a goalkeeper even if they didn’t have to make much of a contribution. A lower expected goals against than actual goals against suggests Bravo is conceding more goals than he should be.  If City’s defence settles down and they start winning, Bravo will have an easier time between the sticks and perhaps will return to his best.

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