MANCHESTER, England (AP) — The Brick Wall.
It remains to be seen if the nickname catches on but it sums up the feelings of Manchester City’s players about their goalkeeper, Ederson Moraes, after his eye-catching start to life in English soccer.
His performance in City’s 2-1 win over Napoli in the Champions League on Tuesday might be his most telling so far.
Ederson had already prevented a potentially equalizing goal by darting out of his area to head the ball clear in front of onrushing Dries Mertens when he came face to face with the Napoli striker at a penalty kick, with City leading 2-0.
Ederson denied Mertens by saving the low spot kick with his feet, before the ball was bundled clear.
It wasn’t long before Benjamin Mendy — City’s injured, social media-loving fullback — had uploaded a picture of a brick wall and posted it on Twitter , alongside two “No Entry” signs.
“Ederson has kept us in it,” said City defender Kyle Walker, who had conceded the penalty.
Little was really known about Ederson when City signed him for 40 million euros (then $45 million) from Benfica in June, making him the second most expensive goalkeeper of all time after Gianluigi Buffon. He hadn’t made an appearance for Brazil at that point, and had a reputation for the length of his kicks as much as the quality of his saves.
To many, it was another goalkeeping gamble by City manager Pep Guardiola. It is paying off handsomely.
He has kept seven clean sheets in 11 appearances for City, impressing with his shot-stopping and presence coming off the line. More than that — and this is why he is so highly rated by Guardiola — Ederson has played an integral part in City’s build-up play, distributing neatly and intelligently, long and short, with his feet and his hands.
“He’s a guy who settled quick,” Guardiola said of Ederson, “a calm guy, makes good saves, is good with the feet, fast, strong, young, wants to learn, listen.”
Clearly Guardiola is already won over. So is Brazil coach Tite, who selected the 24-year-old Ederson for his national team debut in Brazil’s 3-0 win over Chile in a World Cup qualifier this month. He could yet challenge Alisson as the starting goalkeeper for next year’s tournament in Russia.
“(Against Chile) he used a move from City with a throw that placed (Gabriel) Jesus as a target man, very near the opponent’s goal,” Tite said. “His passes need to be studied. He just put Jesus in a position to score.
“Brazil has great goalkeepers now, but it is not a done deal (who will be Brazil’s goalkeepers).”
The likes of Kevin De Bruyne, Sergio Aguero and Raheem Sterling have grabbed the spotlight this season for City because of the team’s stunning rate of scoring, but Ederson has been as important in his own way.
He has provided a calmness and assurance in a position that caused Guardiola major problems last season after the coach decided long-time City ‘keeper Joe Hart would not be part of the club’s future. Hart was sent out on loan to Torino last season — and he’s now at West Ham — and Claudio Bravo was signed from Barcelona, failing to convince and having the lowest save percentage in the league.
Invariably, that caused jitters in City’s defense, as well as dismay at seeing dominant displays by the team undermined by opponents being able to score easily.
Now, City has an all-in-one shot-stopper, sweeper and playmaker in goal. Aside from the Napoli game, another thorough performance by Ederson came in City’s 1-0 win at Chelsea on Sept. 30, in probably the biggest game of the Premier League season so far. His handling at crosses stood up to the test and one powerfully struck, 60-meter pass from just outside his area toward Gabriel Jesus in Chelsea’s half was pin-point and started an attack out of nothing.
Ederson has even scored twice while playing as a goalkeeper for Benfica’s youth teams, one from a goal kick and another from a long kick following a back pass from a midfielder.
A goal might just be the only thing missing in his impressive start to his City career.
AP Sports Writer Mauricio Savarese in Sao Paulo contributed to this story.
Steve Douglas is at www.twitter.com/sdouglas80