Last summer was an uncomfortable one for Joe Hart. For the first time in since he joined Manchester City in 2006 the England keeper’s position was unclear. But it’s a position Hart had better get used to because there will be a repeat this summer.
When Pep Guardiola signed Claudio Bravo from former club Barcelona for £12million Hart’s days were numbered. The 30-year-old has not done anything wrong but his perceived shortcomings with the ball at his feet were enough to convince Guardiola he needed a new number one.
That stance is unlikely to have softened in the year since, even if Bravo has been spectacularly dropped following a series of high-profile blunders. Hart, on the other hand, has quietly been rebuilding his reputation in Italy.
Hart did not cover himself in glory for Crotone’s equaliser at Torino on Saturday. However, the beauty of playing abroad for a season is any errors have been made out of the limelight.
A permanent move to Turin is not in the offing. Torino, reportedly, cannot afford Hart on a full-time basis and president Urbano Cairo was coy when asked on Saturday.
“There’s too much being said about Hart,” Tuttosport reports Cairo as saying.
“Since this has been happening, his performance levels have dropped. This is already the third time we concede a goal this way and that’s a bit too much.
“It happens and I like him, but come on. He’s a great goalkeeper, though, and let’s see how things evolve.”
Bar a surprise – and Guardiola recently claimed to be “so happy” with his current keepers – Hart will be surplus to requirements at Manchester City again this summer.
So, is Hart good enough to replace either man?
Tale of the tape
Statistically speaking the most accurate reflection of a goalkeeper’s ability is the percentage of shots they save. Hart, playing in a Torino side ninth in Serie A, has faced more shots that either De Gea or Courtois. As a result, he has made the most saves.
Unsurprisingly, his save percentage (60.4) is lower than either de Gea or Courtois, both of whom are playing behind defences which give them far greater protection than the Englishman is benefitting from.
A fair comparison, therefore, would be to look at last season’s statistics when Hart was playing for City.
It was not a classic season for any of the three clubs involved. However, Hart came just behind De Gea for save percentage having faced seven fewer shots over the course of the season.
If this were a purely statistical decision it would be far easier to make a judgement. The three keepers are not far apart in terms of their technical ability and, given Bravo’s horrendous record at City this season, it would be hard to make a case to suggest Hart is a worse shot stopper than the Chilean.
But it was on the technicality of his distribution that Guardiola elected to ditch Hart. Bravo was immediately under scrutiny when he was instilled as Manchester City’s number one and, true to form, his footwork was good.
But is he any better than Hart with the ball at his feet?
This season Hart has already attempted more passes than in the whole of last term. He has played nearly 200 more long passes and 84 more short passes. However, the difference in his completion for short passes between the two seasons is negligible.
Whether that is down to his own desire to prove he can play out from the back or the instructions of Torino coach Siniša Mihajlović is unclear. But what is not in doubt is that Hart is a better passer of the ball than he is given credit for.
Interestingly, the average length of Hart’s distribution last season was 40m – the seventh shortest distance in the Premier League. At 27m the shortest average length belonged to Bournemouth keeper Artur Boruc.
This season Bravo (31m) boasts the second shortest distribution length of any top flight keeper to have played more than 20 games. Over in Italy, Hart has the fourth-shortest average distribution length at 31m – the same as his replacement.
De Gea, at 51m, and Courtois, 43m, are both delivering the ball further than Hart on average this term. But that is unsurprising given United are often trying to get the ball forward to Zlatan Ibrahimović quickly and Chelsea’s favoured mode of attack is on the counter.
Joe Hart | ENGLAND'S BEST | Torino | TOP SAVES + PERFORMANCES 2016/17 pic.twitter.com/CnhmzGgZS5
— Stephen Ganavas (@Marottanomics) April 15, 2017
The debate boils down to what actually separates the trio. There is not much between their save percentages – and what there is can be put down to the protection they receive – while their distribution is similarly accurate yet governed by the needs of their respective teams.
What Hart does not have is the ability to make breathtaking stops. The kind keepers at top clubs have to pull off because they concede fewer chances per game on average. So when one does present itself the attacking player is usually the favourite.
For example, Courtois’ finger-tip touch around the post from Patrick van Aahnholt’s thunderous volley which preserved a 1-0 win for Chelsea at Sunderland in December
De Gea has a similarly impressive catalogue of saves to his name, including an enormous reach and paw around the post to prevent Philippe Coutinho when United drew 0-0 at Liverpool in October.
Hard would do a good job for either club. But no more. And when it comes to the very top that extra per cent over the course of a season can make all the difference.