Manchester City: Why Is Sky Blues Goalkeeper Joe Hart So Out of Form?
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Hart is Manchester City's No. 1 keeper. He is also England's No. 1 keeper. England is a relatively small country, but try telling that to Hart.
Every move Hart makes, on and off the pitch, is subject to absurd scrutiny—and that's just when things are going well.
When a few softies get by Hart, though, or when his positioning lets him down, the inquiries as to what is wrong with him come from all corners.
In truth, City fans might have felt that Hart's iffy start to the season (which included three goals conceded both at Norwich City and at home to Manchester United) was finally behind him after Hart posted four consecutive clean sheets in the month of January.
That warm feeling began to slip away during City's thrilling, costly 2-2 draw at the Etihad. Granted, the strikes from Daniel Sturridge and Steven Gerrard were world class, but Hart came nowhere near saving either one of them.
And then it happened.
With his side already down 1-0 to Southampton at St. Mary's, Hart badly misplayed a Rickie Lambert strike that hit him squarely in the mitts, per espnfc.com. Steven Davis bundled the fumble home, and City never found its way in the match en route to a 3-1 defeat that may have finally doomed City's Premier League title defense.
In that moment, all the confidence Hart instilled in his side and its fans in January turned to dust.
It reminded City's fans that when Hart is at his best, few are better. Hart's mistakes though, tend to leave little doubt such as the one he made in England's November friendly with Sweden (Via the Guardian).
Hart has not played since the Southampton match on February 9, so it may seem an odd time to argue that some of Hart's dip in form may be attributable to exhaustion.
It is a real possibility, though.
City has played 26 Premier League matches this season. Hart started all of them. City played six Champions League matches this season. Hart started all of them. In fact, Hart has started 101 consecutive Premier League fixtures for City since the start of the 2010-2011 season.
Tack onto that his England duties (friendly or not, facing Brazil is never easy) and even a 25-year-old top tier athlete in his prime might exhibit some signs of fatigue.
Additionally, Hart could fairly point to the makeshift defense City manager Roberto Mancini has had to employ given the injuries to Vincent Kompany and Matija Nastasic in recent days. Javi Garcia has been only decent in the midfield for City; at center back, he has been a handicap.
For that matter, the serious knee injury sustained by Micah Richards early in City's season set the back line carousel in motion.
Of course, those factors ultimately fail to explain why Hart allowed Robin van Persie to bend a free kick off the post in the derby, or why Hart's poor positioning of his wall allowed Luis Suarez room to rifle a free kick by him at Anfield (Game summaries by espnfc.com).
City is absurdly unlikely to catch United for the league title, but the work still to be done is significant starting with Sunday's match at the Etihad against third-place Chelsea.
A win for City would restore a healthy seven-point gap between the Sky Blues and Chelsea while also leaving Tottenham Hotspur at least five points back of second.
A loss, though, would put City in the shocking position of going from thoughts of a repeat in the Prem to instead having to fend off Chelsea, Spurs and perhaps even a wounded Arsenal side to protect its Champions League berth for next season.
If Hart is to find his rhythm again, this weekend would be a proper time to do so.
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