April 15 (Reuters) - Eyebrows were raised last year when Manchester City spent almost 140 million pounds ($197 million) on two full backs and a goalkeeper, but manager Pep Guardiola showed he knew exactly what was needed to capture the Premier League title in style.
Having experienced his first-ever trophyless season as a head coach last campaign, Guardiola wasted no time in bringing in goalkeeper Ederson, as well as Kyle Walker and Benjamin Mendy to enhance City in areas they’d previously been lacking in.
Last season, the Spanish coach had replaced England international goalkeeper Joe Hart with Claudio Bravo. However, 19 goalkeepers who played more than 20 Premier League games finished the 2016-17 campaign with a better save percentage than the Chilean, as City conceded 39 goals.
Ederson did not come cheap at a reported 35 million pounds, but the results have been mightily impressive with the Brazilian being beaten only 25 times so far.
Firstly, he fulfils that ball-playing requirement that Guardiola demands from his keepers. Ederson’s pass success rate of more than 85 per cent is higher than players including Paul Pogba, Kevin De Bruyne, and Cesc Fabregas.
It means the 24-year-old is the league’s most accurate goalkeeper by a comfortable distance.
Ederson has also made some crucial saves, such as the last-gasp penalty stop at Crystal Palace in December, as well making a significant improvement in the save percentage department — contributions that can make all the difference in a title race.
“He is young and has to improve a lot of things, but he is, for me, already one of the best in the world,” Guardiola said recently.
Last year, ageing full backs Pablo Zabaleta, Gael Clichy and Aleksandar Kolarov were tasked with providing extra width down the wing.
All three left in the close season and Guardiola invested in younger replacements on each side, which immediately reaped rewards.
Mendy’s unfortunate injury has deprived City of a potent threat for much of this season, after the Frenchman had settled in very quickly.
Kyle Walker, though, has continued to provide that additional option in attack. The England international has provided six Premier League assists, compared to two from Kolarov, Clichy and Zabaleta combined last campaign.
Further forward, Bernardo Silva has shown glimpses of his creative ability, but is yet to make a regular starting berth his own. Danilo is another who has provided quality in reserve.
Aymeric Laporte became City’s record signing in January, but it would be unfair to judge the young defender after such little time in England.
The likes of De Bruyne, David Silva and Sergio Aguero — all players inherited by Guardiola — have spearheaded City’s title triumph. But it was the signings in areas City were falling short in, which have helped propel them from nearly men into champions. ($1 = 0.7102 pounds) (Reporting by Peter Hall Editing by Christian Radnedge)