In the difficult first winter of his difficult first season in English football, it was pointed out to Pep Guardiola in the aftermath of their crushing 4-2 defeat to Leicester that his side had not completed any tackles in the first 35 minutes. His infamous response, “What are tackles?”, Was instantly seized on by critics as proof he could not achieve success with Manchester City – and then thrown back in their face with interest not long after.
The City manager was not daft of course, even if he had underestimated the specific dangers in English football, and set about on the training pitch to make his team better at winning second balls. However, his main point is as true now as it was then: that if the Blues are making a tackle their gameplan is already creaking, since the intention is to keep possession – train to keep the ball and you won’t need to train tackling .
Five years and four Premier League titles later, it feels like too many people are still looking at the wrong metrics to judge Ederson. Replacing Claudio Bravo with the Brazilian in 2017 was one of the key turning points in Guardiola’s time at the club and the goalkeeper has just won his third consecutive Golden Glove award for the most clean sheets in a league season.
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And yet, as he adds more individual and collective honors to his trophy cabinet there are still those – City fans and elsewhere – who think the club can do better because he does not save as many shots as they think he should. There is a case to be made that he underperformed in this aspect last season, and a stronger one that there are better shot-stoppers in the league and in world football, but those are dwarfed by the fundamental point that Ederson is no more in the team to save shots than any of the outfielders are to make tackles.
From the moment he played his first Premier League match, Ederson changed the way opposition teams needed to approach both the goalkeeper and the City team if they were going to have success against them. The high line and aggression help City to play on the front foot, and his ability on the ball means that he starts and dictates the possession of a team that specializes in it.
As the coach of a Premier League team told the Manchester Evening News recently, fundamentally Ederson creates uncertainty for the other side in games simply because of the range of clubs in his bag. “With Ederson you do not know what he’s going to do.
“If you go man for man, at least you try to take away the idea of having a man for him to find with a pass, but then you’re in trouble if you are chasing the game and have to press him because he can “play around you. The guy can hit a 90-yard ball onto a stamp.”
As more teams came up against City in 2017, the Brazilian became more and more of a topic of conversation between Premier League coaches and the consensus – that he could legitimately start in the midfield of any club outside of the top-six – had been reached well before Sean Dyche famously likened him to Ronald Koeman. Even the Dutch master would have been impressed by the cool panache to pass the ball away from his goal-line in the recent title showdown with Liverpool at the Etihad.
All of this matters more than his ability to stop a ball going in his own net, and it is draining that four years after his transformative arrival at City there are still so many who choose to look at the position in such a basic manner. Some people even thought Ederson had deleted his social media account because of the volume of abuse he had been getting for his performances.
However, as we still appear to live in such times there will be few City players looking forward to the arrival of Erling Haaland more than their goalkeeper. The lack of a No.9 in the last few years has largely denied him the opportunity to play one of those 90-yard balls that leave the opposition defense for dead, with Guardiola adamant that he does not have the outfield players for such fast transitions .
That changes with the Norwegian striker, who will love nothing more than space in front of him to run onto a ball and head for goal. Just as Sergio Aguero benefitted from Ederson’s long kicks, so too can Haaland feast on them.
If and when he does, the goalkeeper will no doubt be praised because goals and assists are the most vital currency in the game. Those criticizing Ederson would do well to remember his regular contribution to this before focusing on something of less importance.
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