Joe Hart saves England – and sends a message to Guardiola
Man City outcast shows 'moment of redemption' as he helps keep Slovenia at bay during World Cup qualifier
Goalkeeper Joe Hart saved England's bacon against Slovenia during the World Cup qualifiers on Wednesday.
Indeed, his performance has been hailed as his "moment of redemption" by Jason Burt of the Daily Telegraph.
The 29-year-old player, rejected by new Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola at the start of the season and farmed out on loan to Torino, pulled off a series of fine saves in Ljubljana to keep Slovenia at bay, including an incredible block to thwart Jasim Kurtic, a move likened to Gordon Banks's famous stop from Pele at the 1970 World Cup.
It was an "astonishingly commanding display", says Burt.
While most observers agree the England number one has given Guardiola food for thought, it may not be for the most obvious reason – Hart's passing was as notable as his heroics in front of goal.
When Guardiola took the decision to replace the goalie with Chilean keeper Claudio Bravo in August, he made it clear it was not Hart's reflexes or shot-stopping ability that disappointed him, but his distribution skills.
The City boss wanted a "sweeper-keeper" who was comfortable on the ball and could pass out to the back four. Too often, went the argument, Hart was guilty of aimlessly lumping the ball up-field.
That was not the case for England last night.
According to statistics site WhoScored, Hart made 30 passes against Slovenia with a success rate of 86.7 per cent - only four clearances went astray.
He played 11 long balls, seven accurately to a team-mate, and on the 19 other occasions when he had the ball at his feet, hit an accurate short pass to a team-mate.
It is true that Hart has been guilty of playing long balls at Torino, but it was clear last night that he had been drilled to play a short passing game from the back and was able to deliver.
Hart's performance for England is statistically comparable to Bravo for Man City. In the team's 2-0 defeat to Tottenham Hotspur on 2 October, WhoScored says, Bravo made 44 passes, 16 of them long, with a 75 per cent accuracy rate. The 11 passes he missed were all long balls.
Meanwhile, in the Champions League game against Celtic at the end of September, when City were clearly rattled by the intensity of the Glasgow side, Bravo retreated into his box and according to WhoScored, made only 22 passes. Half of those were long clearances and although he completed all 11 of the short passes he made, the Chilean missed more than half of his long balls to finish with a completion rate of 73 per cent.