Dec 26, 2012, 1:27 PM EDT
This space has occasionally made light of
England the English media’s quest to anoint Joe Hart the best keeper in the world, but until this year, the cause had always been excessive excitement about a player who, while clearly a small step behind the world’s elite, gave his home country plenty of reasons to be proud.
But this year, the Manchester City keeper is in the middle of bad season, a series of misreads and outright gaffs undermining his countrymen’s campaign. The most famous of these mistakes may have come in a meaningless game, but the fame of Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s goal rightly brought attention to the fact Hart hasn’t been very good.
Today wasn’t the first time this season Hart may have cost City points. It was just the more egregious.
Tied 0-0 in the second half against an impotent Sunderland, Hart was challenged from long and wide by a speculative Adam Johnson shot. Only the challenge wasn’t very strong. Headed for the bottom right corner, the ball should have been caught. Or blocked. Or generally prevented from becoming the game-deciding goal, provided any degree of goalkeeping competency.
But Hart’s competency had left him by the time Johnson let go of his shot. Badly out of position, Hart needed a quick leap to have a chance. But allowing himself to be screened, the England international reacted too late. Johnson’s shot curled down and into the corner, giving Sunderland the goal they needed to hand Manchester City an embarrassing defeat.
It was Johnson’s first game against the team that sold him this summer, his goal proving manager Roberto Mancini was wrong to assume he wasn’t needed. Though Johnson would have been unlikely to get time on the wing, he would have done to stop that type of shot. Most players would have.
But Hart wasn’t Manchester City’s only Wednesday failing. In front of him, the team continues to play uninspired soccer, showing little of the drive that shot them out of last year’s gates and toward their first Premier League title.
The squad has the look of a team that needs shaking up, their lethargy and disinterest agonizingly apparent as they offered no resistance at Dortmund, fell behind early to Manchester United, needed a swallowed whistle to get full points from Reading, and lost on the road to a bad Sunderland team. That’s four of their last five meetings.
Most discouraging for City may be the merely mortal performance of Yaya Touré, though to say he’s been a Hart-level disappointment would be an exaggeration. The Ivorian has simply failed to carry the team as he did down the stretch last season, forcing us to ask whether City can challenge for a title when Touré is not playing like the best player in England. Because it may not be fair to ask for such consistent greatness from any player, particularly when they’ll spend half the winter in at the Africa Cup of Nations.
At every point of comparison, Manchester City is worse than they were last year. In league, they’re six points off last year’s pace (and seven behind United). In Europe, they failed to even qualify for Europa. To the eye, they seem more talented but less capable than the team that tracked down the Red Devils last May. They’re adrift, if not in the standings then in spirit. This is not title-contending form.
Then there’s Mancini’s continued fascination with a 3-5-2 formation, something he never used during last year’s better times. That comparison is important because at no point this season has City looked as good as they did when they tinkered instead of overhauled. The choice to start with three at the back at Sunderland reeked of the same desperation we saw last week from José Mourinho.
And just as Real’s loss at Málaga forced us to consider Mourinho’s viability at El Real, so does Mancini’s defeat at Sunderland compel consideration of his future. Only unlike Mourinho, these doubts are not new. Ever since Mancini failed to prepare his team for Ajax in Champions League, his suitability for City should have been in doubt. Now, as Manchester United seems ready to stumble into their typical winter surge, City management must ask if Mancini can keep up.
With a squad that looks desperate to be shaken up, almost anybody else will do. And City has the virtue of being able to lure elite managerial candidates.
Unless the thinking around Eastlands is Chelsea-esque uncertainty might scare Pep Guardiola (or José Mourinho) away, there seems little to endear Mancini for this job. With his capabilities laid bare three years into the job, Mancini must improve results before Sheikh Mansour makes a move.
May 22, 2015, 12:02 AM EDT
Firing one of the world’s elite managers, so you can hire a good-but-not-great replacement? Not smart, Real Madrid, not smart at all.
May 21, 2015, 10:57 PM EDT
According to Scholes, the solution to Man United’s goalkeeping problem is a no-brainer.
May 21, 2015, 9:47 PM EDT
Well done to Tottenham Hotspur for showing the necessary compassion and taking care of one of their own.
May 21, 2015, 8:24 PM EDT
The draw for the 4th round of the 2015 US Open Cup tossed up a couple of absolute doozies on Thursday night.
May 21, 2015, 7:23 PM EDT
Jack Grealish has a big decision to make in the not-so-distant future, and it’s going to affect the course of the rest of his career.
May 21, 2015, 5:29 PM EDT
Thierry Henry is riding Olivier Giroud very hard these days, claiming Arsenal will never win a PL title with him leading the line.
May 21, 2015, 3:25 PM EDT
Qatar isn’t the only World Cup host to make others upset.
May 21, 2015, 2:33 PM EDT
Sponsors hold the one true key to change in Qatar, and strong words are a start.
May 21, 2015, 1:50 PM EDT
Many European leagues have spots in the big dance still up for grabs.
May 21, 2015, 1:10 PM EDT
Jordon Ibe and Jon Flanagan both will stick around Anfield for a while longer.
May 21, 2015, 12:27 PM EDT
Only one candidate remains to battle Sepp Blatter, and it doesn’t look good.
May 21, 2015, 11:30 AM EDT
The man who’s been investigated by the FBI and green lit loads of allegedly corrupt ideas will continue to rule your favorite sport.
May 21, 2015, 10:41 AM EDT
The announcement is the final touch of a poorly-kept secret, and comes with the Copa del Rey and UEFA Champions League on the horizon.
May 21, 2015, 9:57 AM EDT
The Impact will be looking for their third-straight Canadian Championship, having defeated TFC and Vancouver in recent campaigns.
May 21, 2015, 9:03 AM EDT
Ward said every club in the Premier League would bid for Sterling (who has already reportedly turned down an offer worth $235,000 a week).
May 21, 2015, 8:30 AM EDT
Phil Jones and Chris Smalling make it a trio of Manchester United players on the roster, while Arsenal paces all Premier League squads with four call-ups.
May 21, 2015, 7:46 AM EDT
There’s a guarantee that a fourth-tier side or lower will see the fourth round, thanks to a pair of surprise wins.
May 20, 2015, 11:10 PM EDT
Borussia Dortmund’s sporting director has said the prized defender will stay in Germany next season.
May 20, 2015, 10:01 PM EDT
A brace from Krisztian Nemeth led Sporting KC to an impressive win over a Revolution side that will leave Kansas City disappointed.
May 20, 2015, 9:03 PM EDT
With the Magpies in danger of relegation, supporters want owner Mike Ashley to sell the club.
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