Costel Pantilimon Gives Manuel Pellegrini a Major Joe Hart Problem
It's been a testing time for Joe Hart and, as a result, his manager.
Manuel Pellegrini has stuck by his goalkeeper despite a list of errors, but it seems his patience has worn thin.
Without any public backing since Hart's latest clanger saw City lose to Chelsea in the dying moments of Sunday's game, it seems Pellegrini is giving serious consideration to a Costel Pantilimon league debut against Norwich on Saturday.
Indeed, it was Pantilimon who played in last night's Capital One Cup win away at Newcastle. This was no surprise—Pantilimon has been City's domestic cup 'keeper for the last two seasons, but a clean sheet and one excellent save from Papiss Cisse in extra time mean the possibility of him usurping Hart in a league match moves closer.
As reported by BBC Sport, Pellegrini was non-committal on who would start in goal against Norwich, saying: "Whichever keeper plays will have my support. Costel normally plays in the League Cup and FA Cup so it was an important game for him."
Reporters then pressed him on the issue of Hart being dropped and Pellegrini responded:
I have just told you I will think about that on Thursday.
He [Pantilimon] always has my trust and the trust of all the team—that is why he is here. He is a good player and is not playing too much because Hart played this year and last year but I trust him and for him and for the whole team to keep a clean sheet after six games is very important.
Even the most ardent fan of Hart's talents would struggle to make a case for him to play on Saturday.
Memories of the man who often looked unbeatable during City's FA Cup and title-winning seasons fade with each dreadful mistake, and a 'keeper once considered almost too cocksure of himself looks increasingly less confident with every passing game.
Pantilimon, in my opinion, isn't the ideal answer, but with Hart responsible for so many of City's dropped points so far this season, there is little choice.
City's failure to sign an experienced and better back-up, which I wrote about on these pages earlier in the season, is causing them significant problems now.
The Romanian often looks a little shaky. Even in the Newcastle match, where he kept a clean sheet and was given the man-of-the-match award, he flapped at a couple of crosses and generally looked uncomfortable.
In all of his appearances for City in cup competitions, not once have I felt completely confident in his ability, despite him making some outstanding saves along the way.
Whether that's down to a lack of match sharpness as opposed to a fundamental flaw in his game is unclear, but it looks like we're about to find out over the coming weeks.
Some time out of the spotlight might do Joe Hart the world of good. A rest from the day-to-day microscopic analysis of his every movement will allow him to refocus.
Whether he gets his chance again before January, when City must surely look to bring in a goalkeeper, will be the key to his long-term City future.
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