City saviour Hart dismisses suggestions Mancini's men frightened of Champions League big guns
Published 05/10/2012 | 05:00
Joe Hart has dismissed Champions League anxiety as a factor in Manchester City's inability to perform among Europe's elite by insisting Roberto Mancini's players have won too much to be overawed on the biggest stage.
But for the performance of England goalkeeper Hart during the 1-1 draw with German champions Borussia Dortmund at the Etihad Stadium, City would almost certainly be facing group stage elimination on the back of two opening defeats in Group D.
Having failed to bounce back from last month's 3-2 defeat against Real Madrid with a win against Dortmund, Mancini claimed his team had a "problem" he would "resolve very quickly" before declining to reveal the issue which was causing such concern.
With City still to keep a clean sheet in 10 games in all competitions this season -- a situation influenced perhaps by Mancini selecting eight different defensive units during that run of fixtures -- a failure to protect Hart's goal has become a worrying trend.
As has City's repeated failure in the Champions League, but Hart insists the squad are not fazed by rarefied atmosphere of the competition.
"I can't talk for anyone else, but look at my team-mates -- you couldn't have a table big enough to fit all their medals on, so I'm pretty sure it won't affect them." Hart said.
"But we are in with the big boys now and there is no place to hide.
"We can't lie, we weren't great against Dortmund. We were a bit open, but we did create chances.
"They are a very good side, though, and how they can be a pot four side in the Champions League just shows what a strong group it is."
With Dortmund dominating on Wednesday evening, Hart produced a succession of crucial saves to deny the visitors to emphasise that his performances are at least one positive element of the club's campaign so far.
While Hart has been consistently good, the statistics show that, defensively, City as a whole have been consistently bad.
Eighteen goals have been conceded in their 10 games so far, but while Mancini talks of a problem he aims to resolve, many City observers believe that the Italian is actually the root of the unpredictable performances.
His readiness to change his backline, sometimes deploying a three-man defence, other times relying on a flat back four, has hardly helped.
Of the eight defensive line-ups he has selected this season, only two have been chosen again.
The lottery-style number crunching could rotate again this weekend if a fit-again Micah Richards is selected against Sunderland.
Mancini's quest for stability has not been helped by Gareth Barry's search for full fitness. Barry, when fit, is viewed as a pivotal figure in midfield by the manager, yet he was mystifyingly left out of the squad against Dortmund.
Also, Joleon Lescott's fall from grace has deprived Vincent Kompany of a regular defensive partner.
Mancini has doubts over Lescott's ability on the ball, but rotating him with Kolo Toure and Matija Nastastic as Kompany's partner is having a corrosive effect on the captain's performances.
Mancini has also started Samir Nasri in both Champions League fixtures, despite the Frenchman's defensive qualities being marginal at best. Tellingly, City only raised their game against Real and Dortmund once Nasri had been replaced by Aleksandar Kolarov on both occasions.
It is no secret that Mancini remains a distant figure to his players, with little warmth directed towards the manager, yet his success at the club ensures that his aloof approach is tolerated.
Hart has had his own run-ins with Mancini, notably his post-match dressing-down by the manager in Madrid, yet he certainly saved his boss from a more uncomfortable Champions League post-mortem with his heroics against Dortmund.
"It was almost like being down at the park and being peppered by your mates," Hart said. (© Daily Telegraph, London)