Clownio Bravo un­der­min­ing Pep

The Sun (Malaysia) - - SPORTS - – AFPPIX

IT RE­ALLY could not have gone much worse. In a week when his neme­sis re­claims a bit of his mojo, Pep Guardi­ola loses a slice of his. His sec­ond ea­gerly an­tic­i­pated re­turn to the Nou Camp was an em­bar­rass­ing catas­tro­phe.

If it was more like the old Mour­inho at An­field on Monday, this was nei­ther the mes­siah with whom Barcelona were fa­mil­iar nor the one Manch­ester City are bank­ing on him be­ing.

Not only were his side given a bad beat­ing in the end, his tac­tics – es­pe­cially with his keeper – raise the first se­ri­ous doubts whether he is all he is cracked up to be. And this just as City an­nounce that he would be lead­ing them into “a new phase”.

To be fair, City were still in the game up to the 53rd minute thanks mainly to Guardi­ola’s con­tro­ver­sial de­ci­sion to pack his mid­field and leave Sergio Aguero on the bench.

They had kept a slightly off-colour Barca’s pos­ses­sion down to man­age­able pro­por­tions and were only be­hind be­cause of a slip by Fer­nand­inho. Had John Stones not missed a gift of a header they could have been level.

But the game turned on an­other cock-up by Clau­dio Bravo. First his rush out of goal was to­tally un­nec­es­sary - like an over-ea­ger park­ing war­den try­ing to is­sue a ticket be­fore the car is driven away.

Next was the mess he made of his at­tempted pass and then came the brain freeze when he han­dled Luis Suarez’s goal-bound lob while sev­eral kilo­me­ters out­side his area.

It en­sured that the Chilean’s rep­u­ta­tion as a clown is now cast in stone, invit­ing even more ridicule from fans and ex­ploita­tion by op­po­nents. The con­se­quences for an al­ready-creak­ing de­fence don’t bare think­ing about.

In­deed, it is hard to es­cape the feel­ing that Guardi­ola’s in­sis­tence on hav­ing his keeper play like an at­tack­ing mid­fielder does not un­der­pin his phi­los­o­phy, it risks un­der­min­ing it. But after the match, he was de­fi­antly main­tain­ing that he would per­sist with the tac­tic “un­til my last match as a coach.”

The ar­rival of Bravo and the si­mul­ta­ne­ous ex­pul­sion of Joe Hart had al­ready raised eye­brows among fans who, al­most to a man, had been ec­static the blue half of Manch­ester had ac­quired the most cov­eted coach in foot­ball. Yes, Hart had lost form last sea­son and was a li­a­bil­ity for Eng­land in the Eu­ros. And, no, he wasn’t great with his feet. But on the ev­i­dence we’ve seen so far, Bravo isn’t any bet­ter. Manch­ester City goal­keeper Clau­dio Bravo (left) blocks a shot by Barcelona for­ward Luis Suarez with his hands out­side the box re­sult­ing in him be­ing sent off (in­sert) dur­ing the Cham­pi­ons League Group C match at the Nou Camp in Barcelona yes­ter­day. Barcelona for­ward Lionel Messi (2nd left) scores a goal after a mis­take by Manch­ester Ci­tys de­fender John Stones (right) dur­ing the Cham­pi­ons League match at the Camp Nou Sta­dium in Barcelona yes­ter­day.

The touch that led to his send­ing off yes­ter­day (as well as the one that should have led to a send­ing off against Wayne Rooney) sug­gests that, like Hart, he’s a long way from be­ing Fred As­taire.

Nor is he any great shakes in the air. It was his flap that al­lowed United back into the Manch­ester derby and why, when crosses come in, City fans’ blood pres­sure read­ings re­sem­ble the cricket scores.

It is Sod’s Law for Pep that this cir­cus act has co­in­cided with Hart redis­cov­er­ing his best form for Torino. In­deed be­fore the hor­ror show in the Nou Camp, there was al­ready a cry for the on­loan Eng­land man to be brought back; after this dis­play, it will be­come deaf­en­ing.

It is not pre­his­toric to sug­gest that the prime pur­pose of a keeper is to keep the ball out of the net. But it is also un­de­ni­able that a ca­pa­ble sweeper-keeper can bring great ben­e­fits.

Hav­ing the glove man come out to the edge of the penalty area to pick up a pass and im­me­di­ately start an at­tack with one him­self is an in­te­gral part of the mod­ern press­ing game – as long as it’s safe to do so.

The pre­vi­ous night, two of the top ex­po­nents of the art, Hugo Lloris of Spurs and Le­ices­ter’s Kasper Sch­me­ichel, took no risks in moon­light­ing out­side their area, and both pro­duced sen­sa­tional world class saves to keep clean sheets with their day job.

The Nou Camp - and es­pe­cially Lionel Messi – would have been mys­ti­fied by the Eng­land keeper’s ab­sence after his hero­ics there in re­cent sea­sons.

On what we’ve seen so far, even with Hart’s slip-ups in France, you’d say he was the bet­ter op­tion – by the dis­tance Bravo was out of his goal.

Wor­ry­ingly for City, it is not just the keeper whom Pep has en­cour­aged to find a man with the first pass out of de­fence – Stones is an­other who seems to want to em­u­late An­dres Ini­esta even when sur­rounded by op­po­nents on the edge of the box.

It may be blas­phemy to Pep’s ears, but there are times, even for the finest de­fend­ers, when Row Z is the only op­tion.

Now Pep and the whole club badly need a win at home to Southamp­ton on Sun­day be­fore they visit United in the League Cup next Wed­nes­day when Mour­inho will be primed for revenge.

Then it’s West Brom be­fore Barca come to Manch­ester.

Th­ese clashes are re­garded as yard­sticks by which the City head hon­chos - mostly Cata­lans them­selves - mea­sure their progress in re­la­tion to the club they as­pire to em­u­late. Fi­nan­cially they may be mak­ing progress but on the field, ac­cord­ing to Gary Neville, “City are nowhere near.”

Pep has a big­ger job than per­haps his bosses, the fans and even he re­alised, and his goal­keeper isn’t help­ing. Is Pep that great? Yes, I think he is, but as some­one once said: “It takes a real man to ad­mit his mis­takes but an even bet­ter one to make things right.”

– REUTERSPIX

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