Friday 24 November 2017

Alan Hansen: Pellegrini's brilliant handling of Hart could end up deciding title

Joe Hart of Manchester City
Joe Hart of Manchester City

Alan Hansen

Manuel Pellegrini's decision to take Joe Hart out of the firing line now appears a masterstroke and it could prove the catalyst for Manchester City to win the Premier League title.

Taking Hart out of the team could have been catastrophic, not just for City but also for Joe himself, but it is now looking like great management.

Against Newcastle United, Hart was back to his best and for a manager like Pellegrini, who is so attack-minded, it is a defensive decision that in hindsight appears one of the most important of the season.

There were questions being asked about him and even doubts over his England place, but against Newcastle we witnessed the old Joe Hart who has been the undisputed No 1 goalkeeper for the last few years.

With the World Cup finals in Brazil less than six months away, and doubts over the back-up goalkeepers, it is also fantastic news for Roy Hodgson and a boost he certainly needs.

IMPETUOUS

Hart looked 10 times more confident than he did earlier in the season, when he was impetuous and his judgment had gone astray a couple of times.

Pellegrini always said that he would benefit from the break out of the team and it is looking more and more like a shrewd decision with each passing game.

It was not just the excellent saves at St James' Park, with the one from Loic Remy particularly spectacular, but all the other things you expect from a top goalkeeper.

The communication with his defenders was phenomenal and he was leaving them under no illusions who was in charge. He was very measured and made good decisions all through the game. He has got his confidence back and City are going to reap the rewards.

Hart's return to form is timely because if you are looking at the City defence, all they have basically got is Vincent Kompany. When he was out injured it was a massive hole to fill and, as Hart was also out of form, they had problems.

City certainly needed Hart because for the last 20 minutes of the game they were hanging on. After the first 15 minutes you thought you were looking at a humiliation as Newcastle never had a kick, but City never looked home and hosed by any stretch of the imagination.

At 1-0 they just did not look secure and Newcastle had loads of chances, even though the referee was incredibly lenient and could have sent off at least two players.

City may have improved results on the road but the warning signs are still there for me. They still look fragile and defensively suspect at times and the threat of a blip away from home is not gone.

Against West Bromwich Albion they were cruising at 3-0 and still conceded two late goals to nearly throw it away. At Fulham they had a period where they completely disintegrated and were all over the place. The Newcastle game could easily have gone the other way and they have also benefited from a poor decision by the referee at the end of the first half. Other championship-winning sides would have put the game to bed.

Chelsea are a team structured completely differently to Manchester City and while they will never be as entertaining and good to watch, you get the impression they never would have been hanging on like that.

City still have full-backs bombing on in the last 10 minutes, but this is the way they play and I cannot see them changing it. They have the attitude that if the other team score five goals, they will score six, but that can work against you.

When they are at home they crush everything in front of them but away from the Etihad Stadium you cannot be always hanging on if you are going to win the title.

It is still City's title to lose, but then we said that last season and they did end up losing it. It is a straight fight between Pellegrini and Jose Mourinho and while Arsenal may come into the reckoning, I cannot see past the current top two. Everybody was saying in the summer that it was open season and the likes of Liverpool, Tottenham Hotspur and Everton could come into it, but I have never seen it like that.

City are still the best team to watch for the neutrals and appear to have got Hart back to his best, but there is still work to do whenever they play away. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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