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.
Aug 30, 2014, 12:06 AM EDT
The Houston Dynamo downed Sporting Kansas City, 3-1, at Sporting Park on Friday night.
Aug 29, 2014, 10:49 PM EDT
Will Bruin’s close-range finish put Houston ahead of Sporting Kansas City, 1-0.
Aug 29, 2014, 9:55 PM EDT
Orlando City SC midfielder Yordany Alvarez retired from professional soccer because of a medical condition.
Aug 29, 2014, 8:59 PM EDT
Paulo Bento didn’t name Cristiano Ronaldo in his squad for Portugal’s Euro 2016 qualifier vs. Albania in early September.
Aug 29, 2014, 8:00 PM EDT
Watch the MLS match between Sporting Kansas City and the Houston Dynamo live on NBCSN.
Aug 29, 2014, 6:00 PM EDT
A new system would benefit domestic club winners by separating the teams into different pots.
Aug 29, 2014, 5:43 PM EDT
Louis van Gaal thinks Luke Shaw has been coping with his injury problems well.
Aug 29, 2014, 5:00 PM EDT
The Arsenal manager will remain quiet to the media until the transfer window closes as rumors swirl around the Emirates.
Aug 29, 2014, 4:30 PM EDT
Alessandro Del Piero is going to the Indian Super League’s Dehli Dynamos, bringing to surface political debate in Italy.
Aug 29, 2014, 4:00 PM EDT
The defending champions will look to open the season with three straight wins as Stoke City visit the Etihad.
Aug 29, 2014, 3:59 PM EDT
Southampton may acquire Brek Shea via loan.
Aug 29, 2014, 3:25 PM EDT
Wrapping up our journey through the Premier League with the last five alphabetical names out of the 20-flight teams.
Aug 29, 2014, 2:43 PM EDT
The one-time largest transfer in Premier League history is moving to Italy on loan, the Stamford Bridge club confirmed today.
Aug 29, 2014, 2:21 PM EDT
News from the senior teams for the United States men and women comes across the web this Friday afternoon. What’s cooking? Head inside.
Aug 29, 2014, 2:15 PM EDT
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.
Aug 29, 2014, 1:38 PM EDT
The Old Lady went an absurd 33W-3D-2L last season, busting No. 2 AS Roma in the nose by a meager 27 points.
Aug 29, 2014, 1:10 PM EDT
A Diego Costa injury could hurt Chelsea’s chances as the Toffees look to rebound from a tough draw against Arsenal.
Aug 29, 2014, 12:49 PM EDT
Manchester United, Liverpool, Newcastle, PSG and Arsenal all make the transfer churner to end the workweek.
Aug 29, 2014, 12:25 PM EDT
Can Paul Lambert and Roy Keane convince the midfielder to come to Villa Park?
Aug 29, 2014, 12:10 PM EDT
LVG says the addition of ADM won’t change his approach to building how United plays soccer.
- Chelsea confirms two-year AC Milan loan for striker Fernando Torres 5
- US men to face Honduras in October; USWNT name roster for Mexico 1
- WATCH: Premier League TV schedule – Week 3 1
- Premier League Preview: Burnley vs. Manchester United 1
- MLS Weekend Preview: Derbies close weekend kicking off off at Sporting Park 1
- Premier League Power Rankings: Familiar faces jostle for the top spot – Week 1 2