Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur could not be feeling any more different emotions about their seasons so far. Spurs have momentum, are on a six-match winning streak in the league and look at least as good as the team that pushed Leicester all the way last season. City, meanwhile, continue to look shaky defensively and are outside of the top four.
What is perhaps most interesting is how indicative their goalkeepers are in this. Hugo Lloris has been the leader for Spurs over the past few seasons and is one of the most under-rated goalkeepers in world football. His instinctive sweeping behind Spurs’ high defensive line enables the way that Mauricio Pochettino wants his team to defend, too.
Claudio Bravo was signed as a goalkeeping playmaker, effectively. I defended the signing at the time. It made a lot of sense, Pep Guardiola demands his goalkeepers to be the initial creator and as good as another outfield player when in possession. Bravo had proven he could do this and he was a good shot-stopper. So far at Manchester City he has been a disaster. Mistake after mistake, whether it be poor judgement or just an inability to put a strong hand to the ball, the former Barcelona man has been as influential in City’s defensive demise as Lloris has been in Spurs’ successes.
Bravo’s inability to adapt, or even perform to a passable standard, has undermined some of City’s better performances this season. When goalkeepers are letting in shots that they should save it is immensely demoralising for the rest of the team, the rest of the club, even.
His woes continue. References to Joe Hart reappear with each howler, in all its tedium, the relevance of it grows with each Bravo incident. Hart, like Lloris, was a leader. An icon for the fans and, although he evidently was not the man for Guardiola’s style of play, his loss hurt the club. Hart is flawed as a goalkeeper, too, and hindsight is a wonderful thing, but it would be very interesting to see where Manchester City would be if they had kept the England number one between the sticks.
Some excellent analysis by Sam Jackson has shone a light on goalkeeper performances this season. Analysing goalkeepers is seldom done in a useful manner as it is particularly challenging, but this is revealing and the work is superb. The full details can be found here.
— Sky Football ⚽️ (@SkyFootball) January 18, 2017
As can be seen on the tweet above, Bravo is not just under-performing, he is falling epically short of expectation. Lloris, meanwhile, continues to rate highly in every category. Facing less difficult shots than any other keeper and responding better than any other, Lloris could fairly stake a claim as best in the league.
The simplest way of looking at the situation is that Guardiola and Pochettino both have specific requirements from their goalkeepers. They both rely on them to play significant roles in the team that enable the rest of the side to function. One team is excelling, one team is failing. It is no mistake that their goalkeepers align with that.