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Manchester City reunites Caballero with Pellegrini, brings in challenger for Hart

Jul 7, 2014, 9:41 PM EDT

Atletico's Filipe Luis, right, vies for the ball with Malaga's goalkeeper Willy Caballero, left, during their Spanish La Liga soccer match at the Vicente Calderon stadium in Madrid, Spain, Sunday, May 11, 2014. (AP Photo/Gabriel Pecot) AP

Say you haven’t seen Málaga play over the last few years. You not only managed to avoid their UEFA Champions League run two years ago, but after their financial mishaps led them out of Europe last season, you didn’t bother digging into La Liga’s depths to follow their post-Manuel Pellegrini progress. With Isco, Joaquin, and Javier Saviola following the now-Manchester City manager out the door, Málaga remained irrelevant to you.

If that’s the case, you’ll probably see City’s $10.2 million signing of goalkeeper Willy Caballero as a depth purchase, but more likely, this is Martín Demichelis all over again. The veteran Argentine defender, who was so important for Pellegrini at Málaga, was brought in last season despite the presence of Vincent Kompany, Matija Nastasic, and Joleon Lescott in central defense. He ended up being of the team’s starting center backs shortly after his arrival.

Caballero’s acquisition could play out the same way. While there may be the perception that Joe Hart will retain the starting spot, a number of circumstantial factors hint Caballero could get a chance. Given Hart’s performance, Pellegrini’s history with the Argentine, and the manager’s willingness to bench Hart last season, Manchester City’s newest goalkeeper could be given every opportunity to win the starting job.

While luring Caballero to Manchester, Pellegrini wasn’t ready to go that far. He did, however, say that should Hart slip again, the job is his. From The Guardian:

Caballero was initially reluctant to join City as he did not want to see his chances of first-team football limited … But the City manager has offered Caballero assurances that he would be given a fair chance to establish himself should Hart slip up once more and the size of the fee – which could rise to around £9m due to appearances and other clauses – reflects the role Pellegrini wants him to occupy.

That price is more than you’d pay for a mere safety net, though given how Caballero played for Málaga after Pellegrini signed him from Elche, the fee makes sense. Over the last three years, the now 32-year-old has been one of the best goalkeepers in Spain, with his shot-stopping helping an often over-matched Málaga maintain a solid defense (46 in 38 games) while finishing in 11th place. Though Bernd Schuster’s team barely eclipsed one goal-per-game (1.02), Caballero made Málaga into an average side.

To me, Caballero’s been clearly better than Hart over the last three years. Whereas the Englishman has been decent if erratic, Caballero has been borderline elite. Perhaps he’ll have some David de Gea-esque troubles adjusting to the Premier League, but it’s also possible he’ll be the better goalkeeper from day one.

Given Hart’s reputation in England, Manchester City could sell him and make a profit on what they paid for Caballero. With Costel Pantilimon having departed for Sunderland, that probably won’t happen, but today’s move does provide an alternative. If Hart has another bad spell, Pellegrini’s probably won’t hesitate to turn to the alternative.

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