When the final whistle sounded in Saturday’s Manchester derby at Old Trafford and Aleksandar Kolarov let out a guttural roar past the gap where his recently departed front tooth once resided, it was hard to escape the impression that Pep Guardiola’s unblemished start to life in English football had once again been relegated to a sub-plot in a goalkeeping farce entirely of his own making.
The Ballard of Joe, Willy and Claudio is a complex script that has lurched from suspense drama to true love break-up tale, before settling on free-form slapstick comedy this weekend.
Claudio Bravo famously bridled when he won the award for LaLiga’s best goalkeeper in 2015 and the presentation was preceded by a compilation video of goalkeeping gaffes.
The Chilean’s fine performances for Barcelona meant he did not feature in the video nasty but was nonetheless unamused, labelling it as “lamentable”.
This word would also fit well with Bravo’s efforts on his City debut, putting together a reel of lowlights and drawing harrumphing catcalls from the Stretford End.
After signing from Barcelona to force City crowd favourite Joe Hart into a loan move to Torino, Bravo initially played with the assurance in possession Guardiola demands from his last line of defence, building attacks from the back as the visitors scored through Kevin De Bruyne and Kelechi Iheanacho.
Alas, the threat of death by a thousand cutting passes in this latest dual between Guardiola and his old friend-turned-nemesis Jose Mourinho fell to earth when Bravo clattered into the back of John Stones, dropped the ball and Zlatan Ibrahimovic rifled in.
The 33-year-old seldom handled with comfort thereafter and was bailed out by a pair of goalline clearances from Stones. He did at least get into the derby day spirit by clattering through Wayne Rooney after a heavy touch dribbling away from his own six-yard box. Mourinho was not alone in suggesting referee Mark Clattenburg should have awarded a penalty and ended Bravo’s misery via an early bath.
If Guardiola’s post-match comments lavishing absurd praise upon Bravo gave the impression he is in on the joke, maybe he is. That, or it was misplaced enthusiasm on another day where there was so much to like from a team who are still feeling out their coach and vice-versa.
Trip to the dentist on Monday, Aleks?