Hart set to pay price with League Cup axe
Joe Hart is set to be dropped by Manuel Pellegrini tomorrow, and the Manchester City goalkeeper is facing an anxious wait to discover if he will reclaim his place this weekend.
Hart will be replaced by Costel Pantilimon for the League Cup game at Newcastle United, a move which was widely expected, but Pellegrini is ready to give his second-choice 'keeper chance to stake a claim for a more regular place.
Pellegrini is running out of patience with Hart after a string of costly errors and fears his own position at the Etihad Stadium will come under increased pressure if the England goalkeeper makes many more mistakes.
The Chilean refused to back Hart publicly after his latest mistake cost City a 2-1 defeat at Stamford Bridge on Sunday but, despite offering his support earlier this season, he is now set to take drastic action.
Pantilimon will start at St James' Park and could even play in City's home game against Norwich on Saturday if he impresses.
The Romania international is yet to make a Premier League appearance for the club since his £3m move from Poli Timisoara in August 2011 but Pellegrini is giving serious consideration to taking Hart out of the firing line.
Pellegrini is then expected to target a new goalkeeper in January, not necessarily to replace Hart but to present the 26-year-old with a genuine rival for his place.
City's coaching staff believe the malaise afflicting Hart is a combination of shattered confidence and lack of competition for his place. Pantilimon has appeared suspect in his 12 appearances in cup games, while Richard Wright, the other senior goalkeeper on City's books, was signed on a free transfer and has not played.
Pellegrini will look to remedy the situation when the transfer window opens and Stoke's £15m-rated Asmir Begovic, Real Madrid's Iker Casillas and Malaga's Willy Caballero are likely to be targets. Pantilimon could even leave City next year after falling out of contention with the Romania team because of his lack of opportunities.
However, the tallest goalkeeper in the Premier League is determined to make a massive impression on Tyneside this week to give his manager a headache ahead of Saturday.
Hart's troubled start to the season could also come under the spotlight at international level, with Roy Hodgson considering whether to start Celtic's Fraser Forster in next month's friendly against Chile.
Hodgson has no plans to discuss the situation with Hart but is weighing up whether to give Forster his debut in a largely experimental line-up against the South Americans at Wembley.
Despite Hart's blunder against Chelsea, which consigned City to their third away defeat this season, defender Martin Demichelis is confident Pellegrini's team can make a swift recovery.
The Argentina international made his first start since his £4.2m move from Atletico Madrid and insisted City would repair the damage of another potentially costly setback on the road.
"If we keep playing like this, we're going to get a lot of good results," he said. "I'm very happy in Manchester. I had a difficult start because I picked up an injury. I worked really, really hard to be back soon.
"I'm a player with a lot of experience and I know injuries are a part of the game. I'm very happy to make my debut but I'm sad because we lost the match in the last minute."
Meanwhile, Yaya Toure is believed to have met Jeffrey Webb, the head of Fifa's anti-racism task force, after the 2-1 defeat in London on Sunday.
Toure was allegedly subjected to racist abuse from CSKA Moscow fans in last Wednesday's Champions League tie and has spoken with Webb to discuss his ordeal.
The Ivory Coast midfielder could even become part of Fifa's education programme that is expected to start next year.
Webb is also due to visit Russia within a few months as fears grow over the 2018 World Cup in the country. He said: "The main message (to Russia) must be that they embrace diversity. They are going to host the world, they are going to welcome the entire world there." (© Daily Telegraph, London)