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. MLS Snapshot: Sporting Kansas City 1-3 Houston Dynamo

    Aug 30, 2014, 12:06 AM EDT

    Graham Zusi, Mike Chabala

    The Houston Dynamo downed Sporting Kansas City, 3-1, at Sporting Park on Friday night.

  2. WATCH: Will Bruin strikes the first goal for Houston Dynamo

    Aug 29, 2014, 10:49 PM EDT

    Will Bruin 3

    Will Bruin’s close-range finish put Houston ahead of Sporting Kansas City, 1-0.

  3. Orlando City SC’s Yordany Alvarez retires due to medical condition

    Aug 29, 2014, 9:55 PM EDT

    Diego Chara, Yordany Alvarez

    Orlando City SC midfielder Yordany Alvarez retired from professional soccer because of a medical condition.

  4. Portugal excludes Cristiano Ronaldo from roster of Euro 2016 qualifier

    Aug 29, 2014, 8:59 PM EDT

    Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo bows his head as he reacts to a play during the group G World Cup soccer match between the United States and Portugal at the Arena da Amazonia in Manaus, Brazil, Sunday, June 22, 2014. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez) AP

    Paulo Bento didn’t name Cristiano Ronaldo in his squad for Portugal’s Euro 2016 qualifier vs. Albania in early September.

  5. Watch Live: Sporting Kansas City vs. Houston Dynamo (Lineups)

    Aug 29, 2014, 8:00 PM EDT

    Houston Dynamo v Sporting Kansas City - Eastern Conference Championship - Leg 2 Getty Images

    Watch the MLS match between Sporting Kansas City and the Houston Dynamo live on NBCSN.

  6. UEFA looking to change Champions League seeding

    Aug 29, 2014, 6:00 PM EDT

    uefa Getty Images

    A new system would benefit domestic club winners by separating the teams into different pots.

  7. Van Gaal: Roy Hodgson ‘cannot judge’ Luke Shaw’s fitness

    Aug 29, 2014, 5:43 PM EDT

    louis van gaal Getty Images

    Louis van Gaal thinks Luke Shaw has been coping with his injury problems well.

  8. Arsene Wenger to be ‘as secret as possible’ over transfer deals

    Aug 29, 2014, 5:00 PM EDT

    wenger Getty Images

    The Arsenal manager will remain quiet to the media until the transfer window closes as rumors swirl around the Emirates.

  9. Del Piero’s move to Indian Super League raises political dispute

    Aug 29, 2014, 4:30 PM EDT

    Alessandro Del Piero Getty Images

    Alessandro Del Piero is going to the Indian Super League’s Dehli Dynamos, bringing to surface political debate in Italy.

  10. Premier League preview: Manchester City vs. Stoke City

    Aug 29, 2014, 4:00 PM EDT

    city Getty Images

    The defending champions will look to open the season with three straight wins as Stoke City visit the Etihad.

  11. Southampton looking to add Brek Shea on loan

    Aug 29, 2014, 3:59 PM EDT

    Fulham v Stoke City - Premier League Getty Images

    Southampton may acquire Brek Shea via loan.

  12. Transfer needs: Sunderland, Swansea, Tottenham, West Brom, West Ham

    Aug 29, 2014, 3:25 PM EDT

    FC Barcelona Training Session Getty Images

    Wrapping up our journey through the Premier League with the last five alphabetical names out of the 20-flight teams.

  13. Chelsea confirms two-year AC Milan loan for striker Fernando Torres

    Aug 29, 2014, 2:43 PM EDT

    Torres Getty Images

    The one-time largest transfer in Premier League history is moving to Italy on loan, the Stamford Bridge club confirmed today.

  14. US men to face Honduras in October; USWNT name roster for Mexico

    Aug 29, 2014, 2:21 PM EDT

    Honduras' Emilio Izaguirre and Graham Zusi of the U.S. jump as they challenge for the ball during their 2014 World Cup qualifying soccer match in Salt Lake City, Utah Reuters

    News from the senior teams for the United States men and women comes across the web this Friday afternoon. What’s cooking? Head inside.

  15. Liverpool boss Rodgers: ‘This is not the Mario Balotelli show’

    Aug 29, 2014, 2:15 PM EDT

    balo Getty Images

    Brendan Rodgers liked what he saw in training from the club’s newest signing, but says the troubled Italian must change his ways at Liverpool.

  16. Serie A season preview, predictions: Juve still class of deep league

    Aug 29, 2014, 1:38 PM EDT

    Italy Soccer Serie A AP

    The Old Lady went an absurd 33W-3D-2L last season, busting No. 2 AS Roma in the nose by a meager 27 points.

  17. Premier League preview: Everton vs. Chelsea

    Aug 29, 2014, 1:10 PM EDT

    Diego Costa could be sidelined with a muscle injury Getty Images

    A Diego Costa injury could hurt Chelsea’s chances as the Toffees look to rebound from a tough draw against Arsenal.

  18. Friday’s transfer rumor roundup: Vidal stays at Juve, Cerci wants move

    Aug 29, 2014, 12:49 PM EDT

    Juventus Training Session Getty Images

    Manchester United, Liverpool, Newcastle, PSG and Arsenal all make the transfer churner to end the workweek.

  19. Report: Manchester United accepts $13 million PL bid for Tom Cleverley

    Aug 29, 2014, 12:25 PM EDT

    Sunderland v Manchester United - Premier League Getty Images

    Can Paul Lambert and Roy Keane convince the midfielder to come to Villa Park?

  20. VIDEO: Louis van Gaal talks Angel Di Maria, Man Utd rebuilding process

    Aug 29, 2014, 12:10 PM EDT

    Screen Shot 2014-08-29 at 11.20.53 AM

    LVG says the addition of ADM won’t change his approach to building how United plays soccer.

Featured video

Breaking down Di Maria, Balotelli deals