Richards: Hart one of best in world
Manchester City defender Micah Richards has no doubt Joe Hart remains England's best goalkeeper, and one of the finest in the world.
Hart lost his place in the City side earlier this month after a series of error-hit displays over the previous year.
After five games on the bench, manager Manuel Pellegrini restored him for Tuesday's 4-2 Champions League win over Viktoria Plzen at the Etihad Stadium and he did not disappoint.
The 26-year-old was not at fault for either of the goals conceded - he had no chance of saving the first - and he made two particularly good saves as City laboured in the second half.
Richards said: "In my opinion, he's one of the best in the world.
"Obviously as a player you always go through difficult times but the best always rise to the top and he is top three in the world and definitely the best in England, that's for sure.
"I think he's mature enough, he's bright enough to get over this sort of hurdle.
"Everyone goes through a difficult spell in their career. He has gone through it and he's one of the best so he will get over it and I thought he did very well."
Hart's performance followed on from a good showing for England last week but it remains to be seen whether he retains his place for Sunday's Barclays Premier League clash against Swansea.
Costel Pantilimon has been given a chance by City boss Manuel Pellegrini in Hart's place and the Romanian has so far done little wrong.
Pellegrini was non-committal when asked after the game who would play at the weekend.
Richards said: "Pantilimon has come in and done really well, so it's a hard topic for me to really comment on.
"All I can really say is both are quality players and I'm just glad Joe Hart is back to his best now and it's up to the manager to decide who he picks."
Richards does feel that Hart, 26, having been long established as number one for City and England, is judged by tougher standards than his contemporaries.
He said: "Every keeper makes mistakes but when you are England's number one it is a lot harder than normal.
"The people who he is up against, (John) Ruddy and (Fraser) Forster, are top keepers but when you are playing for Manchester City and are England's number one, it is added, extra pressure.
"He can't make the mistakes they can make and get away with them."
Hart's efforts helped repel a spirited effort from Plzen in City's final home match of the Group D programme.
City, having already qualified for the last 16, were below par but might still have expected to win more comfortably against the Czech minnows.
Sergio Aguero, from the penalty spot, and Samir Nasri both put City ahead but the Czech claimed equalisers through Tomas Horava and Stanislav Tecl.
It was not until the last 12 minutes that City finally made sure of victory with goals from substitute Alvaro Negredo and Edin Dzeko.
The goals scored, after Sunday's 6-0 thrashing of Tottenham, took the tally to 22 in four home games but Pellegrini was critical of the defensive work.
Richards, who came in at right-back as Pellegrini made seven changes, said: "In the first half we were pretty poor. After the Spurs game confidence was high and we probably thought we could come here and walk the game. That wasn't to be.
"It shows why they are champions. They can hurt you and they scored two goals, but in the end we had too much for them.
"As a defender you are always disappointed when you concede a goal, and the manner we conceded them was disappointing.
"The first one was a good strike but it is very disappointing conceding them the way we did."
The win kept City's hopes of finishing top of their group alive, although they will need to win by at least 3-0 and their last game at Bayern Munich in a fortnight.
Key midfielder Yaya Toure will also be suspended for the trip after being booked late in the game.
Richards said: "Let's not get too excited!
"Munich are a fantastic team, but we will go there and we have got goals in us. We'll be looking forward to that game."