With one of the world’s best strikers bearing down on him, Manchester City goalkeeper Claudio Bravo had a quick decision to make as he received the ball five meters (yards) outside his penalty box.
Smash it downfield and quickly retreat to his area? Or keep possession and instigate another attack for his team?
Most goalkeepers in that situation would choose the safer first option, but not Bravo. Instead, he attempted a delicate lob-pass over Luis Suarez to teammate Fernandinho — and completely fluffed it.
The mis-hit pass went straight to Suarez, whose goal-bound return shot was blocked by the outstretched hands of Bravo outside the area. Immediate red card and, just like that, any realistic chance of City fighting back from 1-0 down vanished at Camp Nou.
City lost 4-0 to Barcelona on Wednesday in a Champions League game that turned on this avoidable mistake by Chile’s international goalkeeper in the 53rd minute.
The author of the error was perhaps not Bravo, but his coach.
One of Pep Guardiola’s footballing philosophies is that the goalkeeper must play the ball out from the back at all costs. That’s why, months into his tenure at City, Guardiola made the big call to drop long-serving goalkeeper Joe Hart and sign Bravo from former club Barcelona.
“There will be no change. It stays the same,” Guardiola said after the Barcelona match. “I’m sorry, until the last day of my career as a coach, I will try to play from our goalkeeper.”
Guardiola knows it’s a risky approach — he says so openly and regularly — but he believes the value of retaining possession outweighs the chances of making a mistake.
“Most of the time, when we play good, it starts from there,” he said.
However, having that rigid policy at his previous clubs, Barcelona and Bayern Munich, is fine considering the quality and type of goalkeepers and defenders that Guardiola had at his disposal. At City, the technique of some of his players isn’t as good and he may be asking too much of defenders like Nicolas Otamendi, Gael Clichy and Pablo Zabaleta to keep possession in often exacting situations.
Bravo is one of the best ball-playing goalkeepers in the world — he started out as a forward as teenager — and center back John Stones was also bought by Guardiola this summer for the primary reason that he is good with the ball at his feet. The rest of the back line is not so comfortable, however.
“Very brave, but very stupid,” was the verdict of former Manchester United midfielder Roy Keane, analyzing on British television, when asked about the way Guardiola encourages Bravo to play the ball from the back.
Bravo has had an up-and-down start to his City career.
Handed his debut in the Manchester derby against United at Old Trafford, he dropped a high ball to allow Zlatan Ibrahimovic to score a goal that reduced the deficit to 2-1.
Later that game, Bravo might have been shown a red card and conceded a penalty when he dribbled away from Ibrahimovic in his area, only to take a heavy touch and then dive in studs-first at Wayne Rooney as the forward went for the ball. Bravo just about connected with the ball.
Otherwise, he has looked composed and convincing with the ball at his feet — until his high-profile Camp Nou mistake.
“It is a game of mistakes and correct decisions,” Bravo said. “It’s just bad luck that I was the person that changed the course of the game, but it’s like that.”