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.
Jun 29, 2015, 7:04 PM EDT
It’s No. 1 vs. No. 2 in the world, but it’s only a semifinal.
Jun 29, 2015, 6:00 PM EDT
By the end of tonight, either Chile or Peru will have booked their place in the final.
Jun 29, 2015, 5:10 PM EDT
A goal and an assist — finally a dominant performance — in the weekend’s biggest rivalry game earns Darlington Nagbe POTW honors.
Jun 29, 2015, 4:27 PM EDT
“Rivalry Week” is in the books, and a number of derby day conquerors find themselves on the last MLS Team of the Week.
Jun 29, 2015, 3:21 PM EDT
Rog talks with the USWNT’s Meghan Klingenberg about the team’s lockdown defense, her karate training, and living with Jeff Van Gundy’s family.
Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup fifth round preview: Cosmos look to do MLS’ N.Y. double, Charlotte hits Chicago
Jun 29, 2015, 3:07 PM EDT
Here’s what’s on tap for Tuesday and Wednesday as the USSF tournament stays regional.
Jun 29, 2015, 2:23 PM EDT
Toronto FC and L.A. will kick off at 10:30 p.m. ET on Saturday. The Galaxy have won two of their last three matches.
Jun 29, 2015, 1:40 PM EDT
You think gossip’s going to take a Monday off? Pssh, please.
Jun 29, 2015, 12:52 PM EDT
Guangzhou Evergrande have added a big name to their title charge in the Chinese Super League.
Jun 29, 2015, 11:39 AM EDT
Many if not all neutral fans expect Argentina and Chile to make it through their Copa America semifinals en route to a border battle final.
Jun 29, 2015, 10:45 AM EDT
That picture is weird, but we’ll get used to it once the Premier League season begins in August.
Jun 29, 2015, 10:06 AM EDT
Less talking, more ranking. Feel free to debate in the comments section.
Jun 29, 2015, 8:30 AM EDT
FIFA’s weather-related move of the 2022 World Cup from to November-December has its first legal challenge.
Jun 29, 2015, 7:57 AM EDT
Could women’s football in England be en route to a Brandi Chastain moment of their own?
Jun 28, 2015, 11:37 PM EDT
Some vacationing footballers enjoying a bit of head-tennis
Jun 28, 2015, 9:54 PM EDT
Final: Timbers 4-1 Sounders
Jun 28, 2015, 8:47 PM EDT
Nathaniel Clyne has basically sealed a move to Liverpool.
Jun 28, 2015, 8:31 PM EDT
Krieger is fluent in German and familiar with Tuesday’s semifinal opponent.
Jun 28, 2015, 7:37 PM EDT
Final: NYC 1-3 NYRB
Jun 28, 2015, 6:46 PM EDT
AZ Alkmaar forward Aron Johannsson wants to switch to MLS in the prime of his career.
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