Pellegrini's expert management of Hart could be key to City's season

The England goalkeeper's reintegration at the Etihad has been an understated factor of City's hot streak

Manchester City have been running riot in recent weeks with their strikers hogging the headlines after reaching 99 goals in all competitions already and the club winning 10 out of their last 11 matches.

But an understated element of their recent success has been Manuel Pellegrini’s meticulous handling of the uncomfortable Joe Hart situation.

The England No 1 endured a run of rotten form throughout 2013, culminating in a clanger at Stamford Bridge in October which gifted Chelsea the three points.

It was then that the wily Chilean manager took action, taking Hart out of the limelight and thrusting in giant Romanian stopper Costel Pantilimon.

The former Politehnica Timisoara goalkeeper was a safe option and saw City’s defence regain its solidity but he was never likely to be the long-term answer.

Hart had for a couple of seasons been mentioned in the same breath as Manuel Neuer, Iker Casillas and Gianluigi Buffon as one of Europe’s greatest ‘keepers, and while those claims now seem exaggerated, his talent cannot be questioned.

By taking Hart out of the firing line, the man with 38 England caps was able to focus on improving in training without having to worry about making another howler at the weekend.

It was a full month before the former Birmingham City loanee represented City again, and he was gradually phased back in by playing in relatively unimportant Champions League group stage ties with Viktoria Plzen and Bayern Munich, as well as a League Cup clash with Leicester City.

This re-established Hart’s confidence, and after Pantilimon let in three goals against Arsenal, he was thrust back into Premier League action against Fulham at Craven Cottage.

The Citizens have won all eight games since Hart was reintroduced and it is clear he has become a reassuring presence again, making no major mistakes and keeping an impressive (albeit contentious) clean sheet away to Newcastle United at the weekend.

Hart had been linked with a move away in January while he was out of the side, with Stoke City among his potential suitors, but Pellegrini has made it clear that he has faith in the 26-year-old as City head into the second half of the season battling on four fronts.

The spine of the Roberto Mancini side that triumphed in the 2011/12 Premier League side was Hart, Vincent Kompany, Yaya Toure and Sergio Aguero.

Through injuries or other reasons, none of the four quite hit the same heights last season, but Pellegrini is getting the best out of them again, now with the additional help of fantastic summer signings Alvaro Negredo, Fernandinho and Jesus Navas.

Hart should now be able to put his troubles behind him, know that his manager trusts him and focus on the trophy hunt ahead, and beyond that the World Cup with England.

City clearly have the most red-hot forward line in England right now, but it is a true nugget of footballing wisdom that you don’t win major trophies without a great goalkeeper.

If Hart can continue to believe in himself and hone his phenomenal shot-stopping ability, true greatness could lie ahead for the man from Shrewsbury.

image: © illarterate

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