Manchester City manager Manuel Pellegrini said he continues to back Joe Hart, but has warned the under-fire goalkeeper that he is not immune from the axe.
Hart’s form is again under scrutiny after making two errors in City’s 3-1 Champions League hammering by Bayern Munich at the Etihad Stadium on Wednesday night.
The England keeper failed to thwart a savable Franck Ribery shot for the Germans’ opener and was beaten too easily at his near post by Arjen Robben for the European champions’ third goal.
They were the latest in a growing series of mistakes by Hart in an indifferent run now stretching back almost a year.
Pellegrini was unequivocal about Hart’s status as it relates to City’s home game against Everton in the Premier League on Saturday.
“I will decide [Saturday] if he starts,” he said. “I don’t tell you now if Joe will play [Saturday], because the players don’t know yet, but [Saturday] I decide.
“Of course Joe knows he must improve the way he is playing, but he has our trust.”
Pellegrini refused to be further pinned down on the issue.
“I am always contemplating different things,” he said. “[Saturday] I will decide.”
Hart has the full support of England manager Roy Hodgson, who said the keeper will play in the upcoming World Cup qualifiers against Montenegro and Poland.
Pellegrini is also supportive and is confident that Hart, 26, will bounce back.
“Of course, he feels that he didn’t do very well, but I think he doesn’t have any problem,” the coach said. “He continues with the trust of all the team, so we hope he will recover soon from what he did last match.”
One of the criticisms levelled at both City and England is that there is a lack of serious competition for the goalkeeper’s jersey.
From City’s point of view, Pellegrini does not agree, insisting that Romanian Costel Pantilimon is a viable alternative.
“Costel Pantilimon is a very good goalkeeper also, he has all the rights to play,” he said. “He is working hard and I am absolutely sure, if it is tomorrow or another game and he must play, he will do well.”
Everton hold the only remaining unbeaten league record, but manager Roberto Martinez said he expected a strong reaction from City after their disappointment in midweek.
“We know we will have to be at our best, but we will embrace that challenge, and we look forward to facing Man City in their own backyard because, in my eyes, they are title challengers this season,” he said.
“We need to look to ourselves. Only the best can be a good-enough performance against Manchester City.”
Liverpool v Crystal Palace
Crystal Palace manager Ian Holloway wants his players to go on the offensive on Saturday against high-flying Liverpool. Palace have lost five out of six games this season and Holloway wants his team to recreate the aggressiveness that his previous side, Blackpool, had when they were in the top flight in 2010/11. He said Friday: “It’s a wonderful opportunity for us to put right what’s been going wrong. We have to be more attacking, it’s who dares wins. That was the Blackpool approach, to be more daring. We’ve worked hard on that this week. It’s tough, it’s not easy at this level, but you have to believe in what you do.”
Cardiff City v Newcastle
Malky Mackay has acknowledged that he could have ended up working alongside Alan Pardew at Newcastle, but will now look to pour more misery on the under-fire Newcastle manager. Mackay was approached to be Pardew’s assistant when he was at Watford, but turned it down, and has since moved on to manage Newcastle. “I could have been at Newcastle. We had that conversation concerning me going up there as his number two, but it didn’t happen,” he said.
Fulham v Stoke City
Mark Hughes believes he has found a club similar in spirit to Fulham as he prepares to return to Craven Cottage with Stoke this weekend. Hughes resigned as Fulham manager in 2011, and after an unsuccessful stint at Queens Park Rangers, is now at Fulham. “In terms of the club and the people, they are very similar – top-quality people, good people to work for,” he said. “You reap the benefits of that in terms of being able to invest and move forward. That’s what Fulham and Stoke have done.”
Hull City v Aston Villa
Having stunned Manchester City last weekend, Paul Lambert, the Aston Villa manager, has challenged his side to continue their good form at Hull City on Saturday. The 3-2 success at Villa Park followed up a 1-0 win at Norwich City a week earlier, and Lambert said of his side: “It’s important to go and try and win matches, and if we do that on Saturday, then it’s three on the bounce that we’ve won. We’ll take on Hull with the right attitude, the right way of playing and the right frame of mind.”