Sport Champions League

Wednesday 25 April 2018

Joe Hart to play for Man City future against Steaua as replacement-in-waiting looks on

Manchester City goalkeeper Joe Hart's exit is impending
Manchester City goalkeeper Joe Hart's exit is impending

Andy Hampson

Joe Hart could return for Manchester City as his long-term replacement looks on at the Etihad Stadium tonight.

City boss Pep Guardiola has not ruled out restoring England goalkeeper Hart to his line-up for the Champions League play-off second leg against Steaua Bucharest after three games on the bench.

But, with Chile international Claudio Bravo having arrived in Manchester on the brink of completing a £17million move to City from Barcelona, it might only be the briefest of returns.

It could even turn out to be a farewell appearance, with speculation intensifying that the 29-year-old might leave the club before next week's transfer deadline.

Asked if Hart could feature, Guardiola said at his pre-match press conference: "He has a chance to play. I have said many times, he is a player of us.

"Until the 31st of this month, all the players here are our players and I work with them like there is no end. After, we will speak."

Guardiola dismissed suggestions his relationship with Hart may be a poor one after the pair were seen in animated discussion in training on Tuesday before the goalkeeper walked off the pitch.

But footage was misleading because Hart and his fellow keepers were working on a different pitch further away from cameras, and Guardiola insisted there was nothing untoward in their chat.

He said: "I have an excellent relationship with Joe. We were clear, him with me and I with him, and we spoke about our football."

Guardiola would not discuss the Bravo situation but, with the player pictured at Manchester Airport, he did not deny a deal was imminent.

He said: "I cannot deny what everybody knows but, sorry, the deal is not complete. After that I will be open to answer questions but in this moment he is not our player."

City should rubber-stamp their place in the Champions League group stage for a sixth consecutive season this evening as they host Steaua leading 5-0 on aggregate from last week's first leg.

Striker Kelechi Iheanacho is among the players hoping to get a start after Guardiola promised to "make some rotations".

Sergio Aguero scored a hat-trick in Romania and has netted six in the first three games of the season, but Iheanacho insists he is not under pressure to live up to the Argentinian's standards.

He said: "I think Sergio is a great striker. Everyone knows that. He has a great quality.

"But I am learning from him as well and it's not any pressure for me to play. Whenever I get my chance, I will do my best for the team.

"It's not any pressure that he's in good form this season because he always does very well."

Press Association

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