Football: Claudio Bravo and David Ospina seek to give their teams the upper hand

Backups will keep goal at Wembley so don't bet against a blunder from Bravo or Ospina

•LONDON • Before Alisson and Ederson came into the consciousness of the everyday football fan, the term "safe hands" was not something commonly associated with South American goalkeepers more known for their eccentricity.

Chilean Claudio Bravo and Colombia's David Ospina fall in that category and their inclusion may likely decide today's League Cup final.

Both will start between the sticks for Manchester City and Arsenal respectively at Wembley. But despite their vast experience - they have 200 international caps between them - their selection has drawn much flak on social media.

The collective anxiety felt from both sets of fans stems not only from their catalogue of mistakes, but also the fact that they are backups to far superior options, Ederson and Petr Cech.

But the Brazilian and Czech shall remain on the bench unless something untoward happens at Wembley or their understudies drop a clanger that will prompt a change from City manager Pep Guardiola or Gunners boss Arsene Wenger.

And the likelihood that at least one of them will make a mistake is high given their high-profile howlers, with Ospina's shocker against Olympiakos and Bravo's red card against Barcelona in the Champions League last season coming to mind.

They have fared little better this term, with Bravo coming in for criticism from pundit Jamie Carragher, who in an interview with The Telegraph said that "had Ederson played against Wigan (who won 1-0 in the FA Cup fifth-round tie), City would still be chasing a quadruple".

LET'S BE REALISTIC

I'm more pragmatic. In football, it's a big mistake to think what might happen in the next three years. It's a big mistake, our targets, it makes no sense.

The former England and Liverpool defender believes Arsenal will take encouragement from Guardiola's decision to select Bravo over Ederson, calling him the "weak link".

However, Ospina similarly faced censure as holders Arsenal bowed out of the same competition after a 4-2 humbling by Nottingham Forest in the third round.

With their years in the game, both Bravo, 34, and Ospina, 29, are capable of the sublime and the ridiculous.

It remains to be seen whether Guardiola and Wenger's decision to play their second-choice custodians will prove to be a masterstroke or a classic case of "I told you so".

Despite City's dominance this season, Guardiola will be eager to get his hands on the League Cup, even if it would have been fourth on the list of his priorities when the campaign began.

City are clear favourites to beat Arsenal but Wenger's men have made a habit of Cup success in recent years, winning the FA Cup in three of the past four seasons.

"Not even in Barcelona when we won the first title in the Cup did I expect to win 14 titles in four years," said Guardiola.


 

"I'm more pragmatic. In football, it's a big mistake to think what might happen in the next three years. It's a big mistake, our targets, it makes no sense.

"When people asked in the beginning, about winning four titles (this season), I said of course we'll try, but the big teams have not been able to do that - the big Liverpools, the big Uniteds, the big Arsenals, the big Chelseas."

Defeat for City, who lead the English Premier League by 15 points, could result in a feeling of anti-climax as it would follow hot on the heels of their FA Cup exit at the hands of third-tier Wigan.

Arsenal, on the other hand, are happy to be cast in the role of underdog.

"We have to raise our level to create the surprise," Wenger said. "The history and the fact we have done it before tells us: 'Why not do it again'?"

What he would give for another piece of silverware today - at the expense of Guardiola.

THE GUARDIAN, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on February 25, 2018, with the headline 'Seeking the upper hand'. Print Edition | Subscribe