Pep Guardiola grimaced and raised a hand over his eyes, his reaction – a mixture of bemusement and relief – captured on camera during Manchester City’s 3-1 win over Red Star Belgrade.
He had just watched his goalkeeper, Ederson, sprint off his line and pull off an audacious Cruyff turn to evade striker Osman Bukari some 30 yards out. Even by his standards, this was high-risk.
Not that Ederson saw it that way. “I didn’t think it was a risk,” he tells Sky Sports with a grin. It is the morning after and, back at the club’s training ground, he is wondering what the fuss was about.
“It was just a way of escaping pressure,” he continues. “As I came out of my goal, the striker came to close me down on my left side, so that touch with my heel was one of the options I had.
“It’s something that I tried, and I was able to pull it off. I just had to stay calm in that moment. But I also knew that I had my team-mates around me to support me if I needed it.”
His answer is a glimpse into the psyche of a goalkeeper whose freakish composure on the ball continues to confound.
“I’d love to see him play outfield for a game,” said Sky Sports pundit Jamie Carragher recently. “I’m sure he could cope.”
It is a tantalising thought. But it is not one that Guardiola and Manchester City have any need to entertain. Not when this goalkeeper-cum-playmaker-cum-sweeper gives them so much where he is.
The Brazilian has been at it more than six years now, his £35m arrival from Benfica in 2017 transforming Guardiola’s team into its current guise. Five Premier League titles; six domestic cups; a Champions League. Ederson has been there at every juncture.
The 30-year-old is their third-longest serving player behind Kevin De Bruyne and John Stones and the only one exempt from Guardiola’s rotation policy. Since his debut, he has started 223 of a possible 233 Premier League games, keeping 104 clean sheets.
It is an extraordinary body of work and yet, according to his manager, he is still improving. “He has matured and he is getting even better,” said Guardiola earlier this week, after his saves at 1-1 allowed City to clinch their late 3-1 win over West Ham.
Does he agree with his manager’s assessment? “For sure,” says Ederson. “I think as human beings, and principally as athletes, we are always trying to grow every day, always trying evolve and improve.
“As players it’s no different. Every day I’m trying to be a better player, to learn more. But I also I try to be a better father, a better son, a better husband.
“And of course, when you try to improve day by day, I think over time you see the differences and you see the results of that. I do all of this to ensure I am evolving constantly.”
‘Sensational’ year and Ortega’s pushing
Ederson’s evolution has never been more apparent than over the course of the last six months, a period during which he has even usurped Liverpool’s Alisson Becker as Brazil’s No 1.
For City, his saves are often few and far between, such is their capacity to smother opponents. But the West Ham game was just one of many lately in which he has made vital interventions.
Last season, he kept the best until the very last, hauling City to the treble with his dramatic reflex stops from Romelu Lukaku and Robin Gosens late in the Champions League final against Inter Milan.
Was that heady, historic night in Istanbul the highlight of his career so far? Ederson pauses and puffs out his cheeks. There are, after all, a fair few of them for him to consider.
“Honestly, last season is difficult to describe. To be able to win so many titles, only one team in England had ever done that before and that was Manchester United many years ago.
“So, for us to do it again and be able to repeat that feat was sensational. It was a fantastic year for all of us, but it’s really hard to pick out specific moments that stand out.
“For sure, what does stand out is being with our families, with my children. For all of us, they are moments that really stick in the memory.”
It is notable how often Ederson refers to his family. He sees a correlation between how settled he is off the pitch and his excellent performances on it. But they are not the only ones supporting him.
In the aftermath of the final whistle in Istanbul, as the majority of City’s players and coaching staff streamed towards their fans at the opposite end of the ground, back-up goalkeepers Stefan Ortega and Scott Carson went straight to celebrate with Ederson.
“We have a very good relationship between all the goalkeepers,” he says. “We push each other every day.”
That is particularly true of his No 2 Ortega, who showed his quality last season following his arrival in the summer, keeping nine clean sheets in his 13 starts. “Now, Ederson has another ‘keeper who pushes him like never before,” said Guardiola last season.
“We all know the quality that Stefan has,” says Ederson.
“He has been able to show that in games himself. And of course, that pushes me more, it pushes Scott as well, just as Scott pushes me and Stef. Every day, it’s about trying to be better than yesterday.”
Passing prowess and feeding Haaland
That is no easy feat given the ludicrous standards Ederson has already set with his distribution. But recent evidence suggests he is taking on an even more influential role in City’s build-up this season.
Having attempted roughly 27 passes per 90 minutes across the previous six campaigns, he is now averaging 43. At times, he has even been seen stepping into City’s defensive line.
“Of course, I really enjoy it,” Ederson says of the added responsibility. “It depends a lot on the game. For example, against Burnley [on the opening day of the season], they are a team who press and mark man-to-man, so the free man in our team was me, the goalkeeper.
“We made a build-up where I was able to step up and play almost as a third centre-back, to help the ball come out from the back.
“This is a big responsibility because, of course, one mistake can cost us a goal. But I’m ready for any situation. Whether I need to play a bit further back, or whether there’s space for me to step into, I’m ready.”
He is always ready to unleash one of the laser-guided long passes he has made his trademark, too.
Since Erling Haaland’s arrival last season, those passes have become an even more potent weapon, the combination of Ederson’s accuracy and the Norway striker’s extraordinary physicality allowing Guardiola to add a new level of directness to the City armoury.
In October of last year, the pair even combined for a goal, Ederson’s stunning pass from inside his own box sending Haaland in behind to score the opener in their 3-1 win over Brighton.
Ederson offers a fascinating insight into the mechanics of their understanding. “This is another outlet that we have, even more so with Erling up front. He gives a lot of substance to the long pass.
“Of course, sometimes when teams press man-to-man, a lot of the time the free man is going to be Haaland with the ball in space. First, I look to play the pass for him to then make the movement, so that it’s easier for him to get the ball under control.
“This is also very helpful, as sometimes he is on the left, so I have to play the ball to the right. So, first I make the pass, then he makes his run. Of course, the pass has to be quite quick too because he is a quick and strong player.
“Then he can arrive at the ball in the right way and create a goalscoring opportunity.”
It is all choreographed in training, which must surely be a preferable activity to facing the free-scoring Norwegian in shooting drills.
“Yes,” chuckles Ederson, “but it’s not only Erling. It’s also Phil (Foden), Jack (Grealish), Jeremy (Doku), who has just arrived, Bernardo (Silva). They all help me every day with difficult shots in training.”
Still, though, there is an acceptance that Haaland’s are different.
“We know what Erling is like with his ability to score goals. We see him do it on the biggest stage when he has the most pressure, so imagine what he’s like in training when there’s no pressure.”
Man City’s relentless mentality explained
Not that Guardiola allows his players to relax in training.
The manager’s demandingness is relentless. According to Ederson, helps to explain how City are able to follow up an historic treble with a near-flawless start to the subsequent campaign.
“I see many teams that are able to win important titles, whether internationally or in Europe, but then afterwards they find it more difficult to maintain the level,” he says.
“What we have is Pep, who is pushing us a lot every day to say, ‘OK, we have won the Champions League, we have won five Premier Leagues, but how can we get better? How can we improve?’
“He is always wanting more from us and, as a group, we are always working a lot and dedicating ourselves to improving and continuing the work we have already done.
“When teams win trophies and then fall off, it’s very, very difficult to get back up again. We are looking for that stability to stay at the top.
“Most importantly of all, though, this is about the mentality that we’ve been able to create through the whole club, throughout the players, to be able to keep our focus, year after year, looking for titles, and also show this maturity that we have created.”
In the end, no player typifies those qualities quite like Ederson, the Cruyff-turning goalkeeper who keeps getting better, and whose definition of risk differs from just about everybody else’s.
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