The unlikely key player to Manchester City’s attack: Ederson

The American Cityzen
5 min readAug 30, 2021

From the day Pep Guardiola became manager of Manchester City, he has made it clear that a goalkeeper who plays the ball out from the back is needed to execute his system. This transformation began with a lackluster season of Claudio Bravo in 2016, and then continued with Ederson in 2017. Since that point, Ederson has been one of the best keepers in the world and has made a transformative impact in how the goalkeeper position is played in the Premier League. Only a year after Ederson was signed, other Premier League teams went searching for keepers who could play with their feet, including Alisson to Liverpool and Kepa to Chelsea.

Pep Guardiola has said on multiple occasions that a goalkeeper who can play out from the back is an important asset in building up play and setting up goals. Over Ederson’s years at City, there have been times where his passes lead directly to scoring goals, such as pinpointing a long balls to a streaking player and eventually scoring (see the second leg against PSG). However, his contributions to City’s attacks can be less obvious as well.

On Saturday, Ederson’s role with his feet may have gone under the radar given all of the great performances, but it was extremely important in the build-up and led to two first half goals. Due to Arsenal’s red card, they were essentially pinned back for the entire second half and there was not very much involvement by Ederson. In the first half, however, Manchester City scored three goals amidst pressing from Mikel Arteta’s side. Ederson played a vital role in breaking down Arsenal’s press to create chances. In the entire match, Ederson attempted 37 passes. Due to Arsenal’s lack of second-half pressing, however, 30 of those passes were attempted in the first half alone. For reference, Ederson only attempted 22 passes against Tottenham and 12 against Norwich. In fact, Ederson’s highest average passes attempted per game for an entire season is 31, which he nearly matched in the first half against Arsenal.

The reason for Ederson’s high usage in the first half was due to the way Arsenal pressed. They rarely pressed Ederson, but they specifically man-marked the three closest players to Ederson: Aymeric Laporte, Ruben Dias and Rodri.

You can see here how Aubameyang is covering Dias on the right, Saka covering Laporte on the left, and Ødegaard marking Rodri closely in order to cut off any easy passing lanes for Ederson. In this situation, he passes this over the head of Aubameyang to land at the feet of Kyle Walker on the right-hand side. The ball did not have an avenue up the field and quickly made its way back to Ederson.

Ederson then dribbled up field into the open space, and Bernardo Silva made the intelligent run to drop deeper to receive the ball while Rodri took Ødegaard forward to create passing lanes for Ederson.

Above is nearly an identical move, but Arsenal counters Bernardo’s willingness to drop deep by having Emile Smith Rowe follow him. This run of possession by City begins the move that will eventually lead to City’s first goal of the match.

Another important element in the build up shown above is Ederson’s willingness to leave his area and carry the ball into open space to look for the right pass, or to lure an Arsenal player into attempting to close him down and find an open teammate. Along with Ederson’s movement in dribbling, Manchester City looked for different ways to free open outfield players to receive his passes. Normally, these passes would be made by Laporte or Dias. Given the fact that they were closely marked, Pep Guardiola had no problem trusting Ederson with the task of building up.

Here, we can see similar concepts as previously. Ederson is dribbling up the ball into space looking for an open player, and Ferran Torres even drops deeper to give Ederson a passing lane. Eventually, Ederson take a couple of steps up and delivers a perfect curved ball out to Walker. Although some of the passes did not amount to a more sustained attack, Ederson’s passes forced Arsenal’s second to move around, which eventually created space for City’s midfield. Bernardo and Rodri’s constant movement to provide the passing lanes, as well as Tierney’s pressing when Walker received the ball created more space in behind for a build up to create threatening opportunities. Although one of these passes had not turned into a dangerous attack yet, it was only a matter of time. Then, in the 43rd minute, it finally all clicked.

Ederson scanned the field again looking for passing options as many outfield players came to make themselves available. Eventually, Ederson made a beautiful pass surpassing 5 players in Arsenal’s press to create a quick attack that led to the goal scored by Gabriel Jesus. There are not many goalkeepers in the world who would even attempt that pass, let alone deliver the perfect ball.

Although nearly all of the outfield players for Manchester City played fantastic against Arsenal, Ederson was just as much of a key component to the attack. His expansive passing range and accuracy is unparalleled by any goalkeeper in the world at the moment, and it was clear this past Saturday that Pep Guardiola was going to utilize Ederson’s passing range more than he ever did previously to break the Arsenal press and create numerous opportunities for City to launch a threatening attack.

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The American Cityzen

I’m a City supporter providing analysis and thoughts on all things City