Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City shocked Premier League world introducing a possession-based football style that quietens the critics who argue that Pep’s positional play would not succeed in England.
Many articles have been written about City’s brand of football and about the contribution given by players such as David Silva and Kevin De Bruyne in the Citizens’ 4-3-3. Many others have talked about City’s players positioning and about Guardiola’s preference for having numerical superiority in the middle of the pitch.
Instead, less was said about City’s build-up and about what makes it tough to deal with. This is particularly the case when it comes to the role of goalkeeper Ederson Santana de Moraes’ contribution to City’s building-up phase.
With Guardiola’s side largely playing in a 4-3-3 formation, both full-backs push up higher the field acting as wing-backs. In the meantime, no.6 Fernandinho drop back to help John Stones, Nicolás Otamendi or Vincent Kompany to get the ball out from the back.
Whilst Fernandinho’s positioning in the build-up phase was adequately highlighted, Ederson’s significant addition to the now 3-1-4-2 shaped Man City was often incorrectly propagated.
In fact, Ederson’s positioning also is crucial for his ability to connect the backline with the offensive players when City are in possession. Using the Brazilian goalkeeper is a frequent mode through which Pep’s team move the ball high up the pitch.
The 24-year-old keeper’s distribution is nearly perfect when it comes to short and medium passes. So, although Ederson’s passing play is often focused on teammates close to the ball, his passing skills allows him to overcome opponents applying pressure high up the field.
Against opposite’s pressure, City’s goalkeeper can deliver accurate medium passes to beat pressing.
It means City can bypass the opposite’s pressing action overcoming their first line of pressure by playing aerial diagonal balls towards the wing-backs. These passes are effective not just to beat opponents’ pressure but also as way to manipulate their defensive schemes forcing them to be geared to a zone they were not prepared to cover. For example, defences accustomed to cover the strong side, with players far from the ball not focused on defending, can be plunged into difficulty by and Ederson’s pass to the weak side.
With Ederson as keeper, the Citizens get an extra-man in their build-up, favouring the team’s ball circulation. Basically, when in possession City play an eleven versus ten game. It means that, when opponents try to press the goalkeeper, a centre-back or another player will be open high up the field.
Ederson gives City an extra-man in the build-up acting as a libero.
The former Benfica’s no.1 usually play at the limit of the box with City in possession while the centre-backs split out wide with Fernandinho dropping back in the way to create a quadrilateral that helps Pep’s side to get the ball out through. Sometimes the left-back Fabian Delph acts as an inverted full-back moving into the left half-space. It allows the team to give Ederson another passing line on the medium range in the building phase.
But, due to his skilled left-foot, Ederson is also able to deliver efficient laser passes directly in the final third of the field. These passes are extremely accurate too (Ederson averaged an amazing 87.8% in terms of accurate passes per game) and gives City the opportunity to break through opponents’ pressure by playing a more direct kind of football when it needed.
When opposite’s pressing scheme isn’t accurately executed, Ederson can find them a free man on the weak side with a long, aerial pass that put City’s wingers Leroy Sané, Bernardo Silva or Raheem Sterling into one-to-one situations that are favourable for them to exploit.
The timing of Ederson’s passing also is pretty good as the Brazilian is able to recognize the right moment in which step up and play the pass and he’s also good at pick which player to deliver the ball. City’s no. 31 is a modern libero or a football quarterback, if you prefer.
When opponents opt to not press City high up the field, for example during Citizens’ goal-kicks, Ederson can easily play short passes to the centre-backs which split on both sides of the penalty area whilst Fernandinho is dropping back just in front of the box.
Ederson’s arrival strengthen City’s possession play allowing them to add another weapon to beat opponents’ pressure. But the Brazilian goalkeeper also gives Pep Guardiola’s side another option in the building phase that rivals have to care about. It explains why Guardiola strongly pressed City’s board of directions to buy Ederson to replace former no.1 Claudio Bravo. The Chilean too was decent with the ball at his feet but Ederson showed to be a more important complement to City’s positional play as well as a better shot-stopper. So, City have a solid keeper when out of possession and a strong extra-man when they have the ball control.