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The Debrief: Ederson’s pass precision, Everton’s finishing and VAR frustrations

In The Debrief, Adam Bate analyses Ederson’s passing masterclass for Manchester City against Liverpool, examines Everton’s dismal finishing at Goodison Park, and reflects on why Gary O’Neil’s frustrations with VAR highlight the flaws in the system…

Ederson's outrageous passing

Liverpool escaped from the Etihad Stadium with a point thanks to Trent Alexander-Arnold but while the scores finished level, the contrast between the two goalkeepers was marked. Alisson was surprisingly below par. Ederson's distribution was a joy to behold.

The Manchester City goalkeeper has long been celebrated for his ability with the ball at his feet and even had he not made an important save from Darwin Nunez, he was arguably his team's most important player during their dominant first-half display.

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Watch the pick of Ederson’s passes for Manchester City against Liverpool

Ederson attempted four passes to Bernardo Silva during those opening 45 minutes. Two of them were lofted lackadaisically his way, finding the space beyond Liverpool's press. The third was perfectly weighted into his path, tantalisingly close to the opponent.

But the fourth, just before the interval, was the pick of the lot, finding the Portuguese playmaker in plenty of room and almost leading to City's second goal but for a good stop by Alisson to deny Phil Foden. The angles that Ederson finds are remarkable.

Ederson's pass map for Manchester City against Liverpool
Image: Ederson's short-to-mid-range passing for Man City was impeccable against Liverpool

In total, he has bypassed 738 opposition defenders with his passes this Premier League season and, perhaps unsurprisingly, has been involved in passing sequences with a higher expected-goals total than any other goalkeeper in the competition.

Only Everton and England goalkeeper Jordan Pickford has a higher average velocity of pass this season - and that is largely because he is choosing to launch more of his passes far up the field. Ederson has that passing range to his game but he keeps the ball too.

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Second Spectrum uses tracking data to identify the likelihood that a player will complete their attempted passes. Of the goalkeepers to try at least 300 passes this season, it is only Ederson and Alisson who are completing more than expected by the average player.

It was Ederson who outshone his compatriot on Saturday. Indeed, maybe City's problem in closing the game out came as a result of his diminished influence. He attempted only one pass in the final 25 minutes. He is their goalkeeper and their playmaker from deep.

Ederson's passes have contributed to moves leading to a higher expected goals than any other goalkeeper
Image: Ederson has been involved in moves that led to a a higher xG than any other goalkeeper

Everton's awful finishing stats

On Sunday, it was a trip to Goodison Park - and those are to be cherished as Everton prepare to leave the famous old stadium behind. Manchester United won 3-0 but the home side's finishing was astonishingly poor yet again in front of their own fans.

Sean Dyche highlighted that as the chief factor behind early season home defeats to Fulham and Wolves. Against United, most of the misses were condensed into a wild few minutes late in the first half when Everton repeatedly squandered clear openings to score.

Everton 0-3 Manchester United xG timeline
Image: Everton had the better chances but still lost by three goals against Man Utd

It is not often that a team loses by three and has the better chances. Statistically, it is only the second time this Premier League season that this happened, albeit not as incongruous as when Brighton lost 6-1 at Aston Villa with a higher expected-goals total.

That was a freak. This was a trend. Everton have contrived to score only five goals in front of their own fans this season when the expected-goals data suggests they should have scored 13 times from those chances. Only Liverpool have had more shots at home.

When it keeps happening, it is natural to assume there is a problem. But Dominic Calvert-Lewin, Dwight McNeil and Jack Harrison are technically proficient - and, strangely, Everton are outperforming their expected goals away from home. Expect a big win soon.

The biggest problem with VAR

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Wolves head coach Gary O'Neil on why he has finally turned against VAR

The Toffees have suffered a 10-point deduction but it was Gary O'Neil who finished Monday evening counting up the points that he feels have been taken from his Wolves team by the powers-that-be this season. He makes it six or seven because of poor decisions.

Big calls went against Wolves in their 3-2 defeat to Fulham on Monday Night Football. The first penalty awarded against Nelson Semedo was particularly harsh given that replays showed that the defender had got a touch on the ball when making the challenge.

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Gary O'Neil on 'trying to remain calm' after meeting with the referee at Fulham

The fact that referee Michael Salisbury later told O'Neil that he would have made a different decision had he been afforded the opportunity to watch the incident back again, highlights the curious situation that the 'clear and obvious' guideline has left the game in.

The so-called high bar, this apparent reluctance to 're-referee' decisions, means that referees and VAR officials are awarding penalties that neither actually believe to be penalties. It is leading to tensions that risk becoming inflamed unless addressed.

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Dermot Gallagher runs the rule over the controversial incidents in Wolves' defeat at Fulham

The age-old argument in favour of the officials, something that tempered frustrations for decades, was that the sport is quick and they have to make difficult decisions in real time. Players make mistakes all the time. Referees are going to make mistakes too.

The problem is that there is less tolerance when officials are sat watching slow-motion replays for several minutes and still reaching decisions that are not only at odds with the public but too often at odds with that of their own PGMOL chief Howard Webb.

O'Neil claims to have lost faith in VAR. Many will agree. But expect it to stay. That 'clear and obvious' phrase, though? It would be no surprise if that is scrapped. If the VAR would have called it differently, their job, eventually, will surely be to let the referee know?

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