When Pep Guardiola bought Claudio Bravo from Barcelona for £17 million, eyebrows were raised.
Joe Hart had the reputation as one of the world’s top shot-stoppers through several consistent and successful years as Manchester City’s number one, yet Guardiola wanted a keeper who was better with the ball at his feet and identified Bravo as the man to take his plan at City forward, resulting in the sacrifice of Hart as the club’s first choice keeper.
Nearly five months on from Bravo’s arrival, and the Chilean has done little to justify not only his high price tag but the decision to replace such an established keeper as Hart.
Frantic displays and insufficient shot-stopping have only increased the doubters, with Pep Guardiola’s side currently in the middle of heavy criticism following the 4-0 defeat to Everton at the weekend.
Granted, City’s defence looks as fragile as any in the Premier League at this moment in time.
The centre-back pairing of Nicolas Otamendi and John Stones – both cost a combined £78.5 million – have not produced the kind of solid performances that earnt their high price tags in the first place.
Add to that the fact that all four of City’s full-backs age over 30, then the possibility of a major summer clear-out only becomes more likely.
Yet it is no secret that to win a Premier League title, as well as have a strong run in the Champions League – two things that Guardiola has been brought in to achieve at Manchester City – it is imperative to have a consistent and reliable man between the sticks.
Having a keeper who can save a side a significant amount of points normally proves invaluable at the end of the season, especially in a title race.
And as the mistakes mount up, it looks increasingly likely that Guardiola will have to make a big decision on the future of Bravo.
The stats emphasise the reason why.
Since the start of December, Bravo has the lowest save percent of any goalkeeper in the Premier League.
Not only that, but the next best save percent from Bravo’s 36.4% is Swansea’s Lukasz Fabianski with 53.1%, therefore underlining how far behind Bravo’s performances have been compared to the rest in his division.
Poor, despite not having to deal with much
If that was not worrying enough for City fans, their side have faced the second fewest amount of shots this season (8.3), meaning that Bravo is having less work to do than most other goalkeepers.
And the fact that Guardiola’s men have conceded the most goals out of the top seven in the league (26) points to the fact that Bravo is not doing enough to help out his side.
“Pep Guardiola keeps saying in press conferences that his team has plenty of chances, but don’t score,” Jamie Carragher told Sky Sports’ Monday Night Football. “The opposition have one and score because one, they’re big chances and two, the goalkeeper’s nowhere near good enough.
“Guardiola’s been very ruthless with Joe Hart and I admire for it in some ways. I don’t think it was the right decision but I admire a manager when they are decisive and make a big decision. He’s now got to make another ruthless decision with Bravo.”
Hart shining in Italy
Indeed, over in Italy, Hart is quietly going about his business for his club Torino, with whom he is on loan.
In the Serie A this season, Hart has made 61 saves, far superior to Bravo, who has stopped just 31 shots for City – the least in the Premier League.
In addition, Hart has double the saves per game ratio (3.4) of Bravo (1.7) and has kept a clean sheet in 27.8% of matches, compared to Bravo’s 22.2%.
The difference in form between the two keepers this season is stark.
Is the Chilean’s time up?
Guardiola has a reputation of not only being ruthless but also stubborn. He more often than not sticks to his ideas until he sees success.
But the question remains: how long will Guardiola wait before deciding that change is needed in the Manchester City goal? Carragher feels Bravo’s time is already up.
“Him (Guardiola) and the club have now got to be looking for another goalkeeper for next season or they bring Joe Hart back because if Pep Guardiola wants to win the Champions league or the Premier League, which is why he’s been brought in, you won’t win it with that goalkeeper.”
So as Guardiola sees his title hope diminishing, another ruthless decision could well be on the horizon.
A pivotal call
Whether the City manager decides to bring back Hart or stick with Bravo, a man in whom he invested so much money, only time will tell.
It could be a pivotal call in determining the success of Pep’s reign at the Etihad Stadium.
Written by Sean Wilson
Follow Sean on Twitter @WilsonFC2012
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