Skip to content

Joe Hart, Robert Mancini failings on display against Sunderland

Dec 26, 2012, 1:27 PM EDT

Sunderland v Manchester City - Premier League Getty Images

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.

source: Getty ImagesThe 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.

MORE: Manchester United: Flawed and fabulous

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.

Latest Posts
  1. Victor Valdes to trudge on at Manchester United after Besiktas move falls apart

    Aug 30, 2015, 9:29 AM EDT

    Valdes Getty Images

    Could Valdes be forced to stay with Manchester United despite his obvious wish to leave?

  2. Australian striker scores eight goals in A-League preseason match

    Aug 30, 2015, 8:46 AM EDT

    Maclaren Getty Images

    Oh the season hasn’t started yet? Jamie Maclaren wasn’t aware.

  3. Watch Live: Southampton vs Norwich City (Lineups and Live Stream)

    Aug 30, 2015, 7:50 AM EDT

    Koeman Getty Images

    Ronald Koeman must pick up a win fast or risk seeing Southampton in a serious early season hole.

  4. Montreal’s Frank Klopas becomes first MLS head coach fired this season

    Aug 30, 2015, 7:30 AM EDT

    Klopas Getty Images

    A single coach had yet to be fired as we approach the start of September, but that changed as Montreal made a change.

  5. MLS Snapshot: FC Dallas 2-0 Real Salt Lake (video)

    Aug 29, 2015, 11:37 PM EDT

    Fabian Castillo, FC Dallas Fabian Castillo, FC Dallas

    The playoffs look a might big ask of RSL, as they sit rock bottom, 10th place, in the Western Conference.

  6. MLS Snapshot: Colorado Rapids 2-1 Sporting Kansas City (video)

    Aug 29, 2015, 11:08 PM EDT

    Seth Sinovic, Sporting KC & Vicente Sanchez, Colorado Rapids Seth Sinovic, Sporting KC & Vicente Sanchez, Colorado Rapids

    Three losses in a row for Sporting KC, and the team with the highest points-per-game total is slipping in the West.

  7. Premier League Sunday preview: Man United looking for revenge vs. Swansea City

    Aug 29, 2015, 8:37 PM EDT

    Wayne Rooney, Manchester United FC Getty Images

    Man United fell twice at the hand of Swansea City in 2014-15. On Sunday, Louis van Gaal takes his crack at revenge.

  8. MLS Snapshot: Toronto FC 2-1 Montreal Impact (video)

    Aug 29, 2015, 6:34 PM EDT

    Michael Bradley, Toronto FC Michael Bradley, Toronto FC

    Michael Bradley powered TFC to a 2-1 victory in the 401 Derby, and essentially locked up a playoff place in doing so.

  9. MLS Snapshot: New York City FC 1-2 Columbus Crew SC (video)

    Aug 29, 2015, 6:20 PM EDT

    Mix Diskerud, New York City FC Mix Diskerud, New York City FC

    NYCFCs struggles continued on Saturday, as they lost to a very poor road team in Columbus Crew SC.

  10. VIDEO: Which of James Rodriguez’s stunning goals is better? Is it the free kick? Bicycle kick?

    Aug 29, 2015, 6:01 PM EDT

    James Rodriguez, Real Madrid CF Getty Images

    James Rodriguez scored two filthy goals on Saturday. We need your help deciding which one was more impressive.

  11. Bundesliga wrap: Aussie magic helps Ingolstadt shock Augsburg (video); Bayern, Mainz roll

    Aug 29, 2015, 4:55 PM EDT

    Bayern's Arjen Robben, center, celebrates with teammates Thomas Mueller, left, and Arturo Vidal after scoring  his side's third goal from the penalty spot during the German Bundesliga soccer match between FC Bayern Munich and Bayer Leverkusen 04 in Munich, Germany, Saturday, Aug. 29, 2015. (AP Photo/Matthias Schrader) AP

    Bayern Munich continued its strong start to the Bundesliga campaign, and will be the only team to boast a 3-0 record unless BVB beats Hertha Berlin on Sunday.

  12. Pochettino: Tottenham “much better than Everton,” but nothing to show for it is frustrating

    Aug 29, 2015, 4:30 PM EDT

    Mauricio Pochettino, Tottenham Hotspur FC Getty Images

    Being the “better” side is a subjective thing, of course, especially when you fail to win.

  13. Premier League roundup: Chelsea, Liverpool suffer stunning home defeats

    Aug 29, 2015, 4:00 PM EDT

    Catch up on all the action from eight games on Saturday, as there were plenty of shocks in the PL.

  14. Arsene Wenger: It was difficult playing up a man, but “vital for Arsenal to win today”

    Aug 29, 2015, 3:45 PM EDT

    Arsene Wenger, Arsenal FC Getty Images

    Arsene Wenger isn’t panicking over another close call against Newcastle United. The way he sees it, they did well to win 1-0 on an own goal.

  15. Tim Howard ready for USMNT return, as heroics rescue Everton

    Aug 29, 2015, 3:25 PM EDT

    Tim Howard Tim Howard

    With Howard back in a U.S. jersey next week, he put in a Man of the Match display to grab Everton a point at Spurs.

  16. Three things we learned from Tottenham Hotspur vs. Everton

    Aug 29, 2015, 2:35 PM EDT

    Tottenham Hotspur v Stoke City - Premier League Getty Images

    Here’s three things we learned from the Lane.

  17. Tottenham 0-0 Everton: Howard stands tall as Toffees weather Spurs storm

    Aug 29, 2015, 2:24 PM EDT

    Howard Getty Images

    Spurs attacked for much of the match but were held off the scoresheet by American goalkeeper Tim Howard.

  18. Brendan Rodgers says both Liverpool and the referee struggled at Anfield

    Aug 29, 2015, 1:18 PM EDT

    Rodgers Getty Images

    The Liverpool manager was disappointed in the Reds play but also criticized the referee.

  19. Mourinho praises Crystal Palace after shocking Chelsea loss

    Aug 29, 2015, 12:34 PM EDT

    Mourinho Getty Images

    Jose Mourinho gave lots of credit to today’s worthy opponent, but did stay somewhat true to his nature.

  20. Stoke City 0-1 West Bromwich Albion: Nine-man Potters downed by Rondon

    Aug 29, 2015, 12:04 PM EDT

    Afellay and Adam sent off as Baggies down Potters on Pulis’ return.

Featured video

Premier League, Week 3 review