Off the Mark: Joe Hart hasn’t become bad, he’s just forgotten what made him good
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You’ll have seen them all by now, the hashtags, the harsh comparisons and the jokes no doubt ripped off and retold to thousands of followers across the globe. When you’re in a slump, Twitter is not your friend.
When you’re the goalkeeper for England and Manchester City, not many other people are either.
Each error is going to be seized upon and dissected in minute detail, and so the aim has to be to simply stop making as many mistakes. For Joe Hart, that is proving easier said than done.
City would have welcomed a point from their weekend visit to Chelsea, especially seeing as they fell behind in the first half and responded well in the second.
There were crucial momentum points up for grabs there, points perhaps more important than the one they were to achieve from the 1-1 result. Then disaster struck.
Hart’s error in not trusting Matija Nastasic enough to deal with both a lofted ball forward and an onrushing Fernando Torres turned one point into none, an encouraging draw into a damaging loss and a decent result into a third league defeat of the season. That’s the same as Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool combined.
Despite maintaining the title of the top scorers in the division, City’s away form now shows just one win in five. Maintaining that won’t even get them into the top four, never mind the top one.
Hart has been the man blamed by many for this slump, and decisions such as his last minute rush of blood at Stamford Bridge indicate why.
Is this the same man once widely thought to be the best goalkeeper in the Premier League? Physically yes, give or take a few skin flakes he’s removed from his scalp, but mentally the answer looks to be no.
Judging by his lack of faith in Nastasic’s ability to deal with the Torres situation, Hart simply hasn’t got enough trust in his defence at the moment. The company around him doesn’t fill him with confidence, as opposed to the Kompany who usually keeps him safe.
The absence of City’s skipper Vincent Kompany – who has started just four of his side’s nine league games this season, completing only two of them – is the key to Hart’s struggles.
Of course the Belgian isn’t a one-man defence capable of shielding Hart from any shots heading towards his goal, but he does inspire others around him, including Nastasic. Hart would have played behind the Serb on plenty of occasions, but the Nastasic he’ll have seen lining up alongside Martin Demichelis on Sunday would have been a different player to the one the goalkeeper would see playing with Kompany.
Perhaps Hart is also lacking that leadership in front of him when he plays for England too, with Roy Hodgson picking the likes of Phil Jagielka, Gary Cahill and Joleon Lescott at centre-back, none of whom possessing the organisational skills of, say, a John Terry.
Let’s not begin a tub-thumping call for the Chelsea man to return to international football though, and instead focus on a goalkeeper who hasn’t become bad, he’s just forgotten what made him good.
At 26, Hart could easily have another 10 years at the top left in him, and that decade is likely to feature one or two more slumps in form like the one he’s experiencing now.
If he can learn from it though, and remember to place trust in his defenders, then he might just look back on this period as the making of him.
City will certainly hope so anyway, as will those of us sick of reading those same old Twitter jokes.
Clear thinking is the key to Sturridge form
Liverpool’s forwards are a joy to watch at the moment, and while the spotlight was rightly on the brilliant Luis Suarez at the weekend, it is the development of Daniel Sturridge which is the greater attraction.
Twenty-one goals in 27 Liverpool games is statistic approaching Messi-Ronaldo levels, and it has been really refreshing to see and hear the forward talk with such openness and honesty about the need to de-clutter his mind in order to become a better player.
The fact that Sturridge has only awarded himself “a six or seven” out of 10 for his Reds career so far (and the seven didn’t sit well with him) suggests that he’s his own harshest critic, but goals like the brilliant chip against West Brom at the weekend don’t come from six or seven out of 10 players.
They come from superstars.
Swans need to avoid Euro hangover
Swansea look handily placed in ninth at the moment, but that is just three points above the relegation zone.
Such is the tightness of the division they are likely to have slipped somewhat by the time they take on Cardiff City on Sunday, in a match that those who don’t follow football outside of the Premier League might be about to realise the significance of.
It’s going to be big, and with a Cardiff win taking them above their bitter rivals in the table, the Swans need to make sure that their European campaign doesn’t distract them from the bigger picture.
That picture, for much longer than Sunday, is purely made up of South Wales bragging rights.