It was a first touch David Silva or Kevin De Bruyne would have been proud of. With Southampton looking to launch a quick counter-attack after regaining possession deep inside their own half, Mario Lemina lofted a pass over the top of the Manchester City defence in search of lone striker Shane Long. The Irishman gave chase, but he was beaten to the ball by a hastily advancing figure wearing gloves.
Ederson got there first, but he was not overcome by panic despite being 30 yards out of his goal. Instead, the City goalkeeper delicately cushioned the ball on his left instep, before calmly assessing his options and playing a short pass to Kyle Walker ahead of him. It was a superb piece of control from a player whose technical ability means he probably would not look too out of place in Pep Guardiola’s midfield.
The clip from last Wednesday’s game, which ended in a 2-1 City victory after Raheem Sterling’s dramatic winner in second-half stoppage time, was widely shared after the final whistle, but it was far more than an incidental piece of quality. Indeed, the moment was in fact indicative of the important role Ederson plays in this City side, and why his own proactive style of goalkeeping is essential to the healthy functioning of the team as a whole.
No team in the Premier League comes close to matching the possession figures of Guardiola’s men so far this term: City have averaged 66.4 per cent in the first 15 rounds of fixtures, which is substantially higher than second-placed Arsenal’s 58.5 per cent. As a consequence of their dominance of the ball, City invariably spend the vast majority of most matches in the opposition half of the field, with the team’s centre-halves always holding a high defensive line.
Football, above all else, is a battle for space, and it is impossible for a side to adequately cover every zone of the pitch at all times. The room for those facing City is often in behind their backline, which is why long passes over the top – just like the one Lemina tried to find Long with last week – are a common occurrence. Having a goalkeeper who is not only willing to leave his penalty area to sweep up in behind but is extremely quick and aggressive when doing so is a must for any team who pushes so high up the pitch.
“We play so high that the goalkeeper has to play on the 18-yard box to help us with these forward balls,” Guardiola explained after his side’s 5-0 thrashing of Liverpool in September, a game in which Sadio Mane was shown a red card for catching Ederson in the face after the goalkeeper raced off his line to intercept a pass.
“When the pitch was wet and the ball goes into that position, we have to defend with our goalkeeper. It is so important for us to feel that for our central defenders, with long balls, we have one guy to help us.”
It was not the first time Guardiola had lavished praise on his new No.1; the first time he did so came in the United States in the summer, when City were on their pre-season tour. “He has shown us amazing things in this period,” the former Barcelona and Bayern Munich head coach told reporters.
“Not just the goal kicks, but also he saves a lot of balls and quickly closes down the space for the strikers. Always with his feet he decides well, with the long and the short, he reads the decisions well, that’s why I wanted him because to compete at the high level we need two excellent goalkeepers, if we don’t have that, we can’t [compete].
“He has this quality, in the goal kicks. When the opposition makes high pressing and it’s complicated, now we have the chance to put the ball in the other box, and of course we have a little bit more space in the middle.”
Ederson is a thoroughly modern goalkeeper whose skill set is perfectly aligned with his team’s style of play. He will be crucial to City’s pursuit of silverware both domestically and in Europe this season.
By Greg Lea
Greg Lea is a freelance football writer for FourFourTwo, The Blizzard and various others. Follow his Twitter account @GregLeaFootball for anything and everything related to soccer and more.