Expect Joe Hart to get more scrutiny after today’s performance against Cardiff

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At the beginning of last season, Joe Hart was being touted as one of the best goalkeepers in the world, but meaningful discussion of that faded throughout last season. Manchester City’s number one struggled through a decent but inconsistent 2012-13; certainly not the dominant campaign you’d expect from such a lofty reputation. Coming into this year, though, there was very little talk of Hart persisting in with his troubles, the inherent assumption being the 26-year-old would recover.

Against Newcastle last week, he was rarely tested. And for the most part against Cardiff, Hart had an easy day. A easy day, that is, until the final 30 minutes, with the Bluebirds scoring three times to take a 3-2, upset win over Manchester City.

Particularly given how the second, go-ahead goal went down, you can expect to see a good deal of debate about Hart’s performance. The first goal may also draw some ire, though really, when the other team’s striker’s allow to blast a shot off you come close range, sometimes it’s all a keeper can do to keep the ball out. Hart may have left Fraizer Campbell’s shot for an easy Aron Gunnarsson goal, but it’s a bit greedy to want him to do more.

And in fairness, few will feel that way (I’ll stop stuffing this shirt with straw). The third goal, however — Campbell’s header from a 87th minute corner — falls squarely on Hart’s shoulders, the type of beguiling mistake that had drawn criticism over the last year-plus. On an in-swinging ball from the right corner, Hart chose a poor angle, getting caught up with Gunnarsson in the six such that he ended up under (not meeting) the ball. Campbell beat Pablo Zabaleta in front of goal head into an open goal from three or four yards out, a distance at which Hart should be catching the ball.

Though the final score won’t show it (with both teams adding another goal), this was a crucial tally. With 11 minutes left, Cardiff City had gone up one in a game Manchester City had controlled. It’s not just that Hart should never concede that goal. The timing plays into it as well.

To be fair, the central pairing in front of Hart had never played together, but this wasn’t on Javi Garcia and Joleon Lescott. Hart was making mistakes last year behind Vincent Kompany and Matija Nastasic. At some point, both Manchester City and England have to decide whether these tendencies are endemic or aberrational.

There’s something about Joe Hart, though; something that makes you think he’ll come around. Maybe it’s the confidence he still mostly portrays. Maybe it’s the memories of his first seasons as City’s number one that linger in our mind. Maybe it’s he technique or raw athleticism. Or maybe it’s his reputation, inflated as it was.

Maybe, though, all those things are biasing a real evaluation, one that rarely happens once goalkeepers reach a certain status. Once they’re at the top level, certain goalkeepers are just good, no matter what they do. It’s so inconceivable that Iker Casillas could ever be benched or Gianluigi Buffon may actually be fading, even if their performances say otherwise. Perception is what keeps a Thibaut Courtois from generally being considered an elite keeper, and why Liverpool’s move from Pepe Reina to Simon Mignolet even gets debated. Reputation, whether you’ve established one or not, is a powerful thing in how we discuss goalkeepers.

Hart is established. He’s not going to lose his job. But who is the real Joe Hart? The player that inspired best in show evaluations? Or the player we’ve seen for the last 13 months? It’s something that will be discussed in the wake of Sunday’s performance.

Serie A: Juve keep winning to remain 1 point back of Napoli

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TURIN, Italy (AP) Juventus closed the gap on Serie A leader Napoli back to just one point as the six-time defending champion eased past Genoa 1-0 on Monday.

Douglas Costa scored in the 16th minute, the first conceded by Genoa in five league matches. It was a less than convincing performance from Juventus but it was never really troubled, as goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny – standing in for the still-injured Gianluigi Buffon – was little more than a spectator.

“What was important was to win,” Juventus coach Massimiliano Allegri said. “At the end there was a bit of nervousness because we were lacking in energy a bit.

“We could have finished off the match in the first half, and again with a couple of occasions after the break. We didn’t manage to so compliments to Genoa.”

The battle for the Serie A title is shaping into a two-horse race. Juventus moved 10 points clear of third-placed Lazio, although the capital side has a match in hand.

“The season is still long and all those who are behind us can still get back into the race,” Allegri said. “It was important to stay in Napoli’s slipstream.”

Juventus needed to win after Napoli beat Atalanta 1-0 on Sunday.

Allegri’s side started brightly and had an early chance to take the lead but Genoa goalkeeper Mattia Perin did well to keep out a free kick from specialist Miralem Panic.

However, it did not take much longer to strike. Douglas Costa passed out left to Mario Mandzukic, who played a delightful return ball for the Brazil midfielder to slot into the bottom left corner.

League Cup semi: Man City take 2-1 lead into 2nd leg vs. Bristol

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Manchester City can move one step closer on Tuesday to claiming their first of four potential trophies this season, when Pep Guardiola‘s men take on Bristol City in the second leg of the League Cup semifinal.

[ MORE: Monday’s transfer rumor roundup | Sunday | Friday ]

After coming back to beat the Robins in the first leg at home, Man City must now go on the road and take care of business to reach the Feb. 25 final at Wembley Stadium. As he has done so many times — and so famously — in the sky blue of City, Sergio Aguero grabbed the late winner (91st minute — WATCH HERE) 14 days ago.

For a few not-so-insignificant periods of the game, Bristol were very much the aggressors and appeared more likely to make the score 2-0 than for City to get back to 1-1. Bobby Reid converted from the penalty spot in the 44th minute after her was brought down under John Stones‘ wild, sliding tackle. Kevin De Bruyne leveled things up 10 minutes into the second half, setting the stage for Aguero’s late heroics.

[ MORE: Alexis-for-Mkhi swap complete | De Bruyne’s new contract ]

Since the first leg on Jan. 9, City have failed in their bid to finish the PL season with an unbeaten record before bouncing back to beat Newcastle United on the weekend, courtesy of a hat trick from Aguero — Guardiola quotes, from Sport24:

“I said many times it was going to happen, we can lose, so (it is) important the reaction we have. Still we have 42 points to play (for). It is 14 games. It is a lot of games to play and difficult games like Saturday and like Liverpool. It is important to show the team is still there but I don’t have the feeling we give up.

“We want to go through to the final in the (League) Cup and the FA Cup, so (we have) a lot of games but I think the people have the desire to keep going, to keep going, to keep going.”

[ MORE: One dream January signing for each top-six side ]

Bristol, meanwhile, have fallen on hard times: it’s been nearly a month (Boxing Day, to be specific — five losses, one draw) since Lee Johnson’s side last won a game in any competition, and they’ve fallen from second to fifth in the Championship table — Johnson quotes, from the Guardian:

“We don’t want to be brave losers, we want to compete to win. It’s up to the players to be focused and tactically aware, and who knows what will happen if we can show the same quality as we have shown in the previous rounds?

“We have to make sure we’re really bold. If you’re going to deliver a corner, do it like you mean it. I’d rather fail bold than fail timid. We know we have to score. I hope Pep picks his absolute best team and we can give them a right go. I’m not sure you could go and play an under-23 side against us at the moment and I think he’ll know that.”

The winner of Arsenal versus Chelsea (0-0 after the first leg) awaits in the final.

The 2 Robbies: Alexis-Mkhitaryan Swap Becomes Reality

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Robbie Earle and Robbie Mustoe react to the Alexis Sanchez-Henrikh Mkhitaryan swap deal between Arsenal and Manchester United finally becoming reality (0:20), Swansea’s stunning 1-0 victory over Liverpool (9:20), Southampton’s much-needed draw with Spurs (22:30) and Watford’s decision to part ways with Marco Silva (36:20). The gents end the show sharing their memories of the late English striker, Cyrille Regis (39:45).

Join Earle & Mustoe on The 2 Robbies Football Show, Saturdays at 5pm ET. Listen on the NBCSports Radio App and call 855-323-4622 in the U.S. for lively passionate debate.

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Inter Milan sign Barcelona midfielder Rafinha on loan

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MILAN (AP) Inter Milan completed the signing of Barcelona midfielder Rafinha on loan until the end of the season, with a view to a permanent move.

Inter can sign the Brazil international permanently for $43 million plus $3.7 million in bonuses, and said on Monday that option “must be taken up before the end of the season.”

Rafinha, who was born in Sao Paulo, had been at Barcelona since 2006, when he joined its youth team. He spent the 2013-14 season on loan at Celta Vigo.

After nine months out after surgery on his right knee, he made his first appearance of the season last week as a late substitute in Barcelona’s Copa del Rey defeat at Espanyol.

“It’s an important stage in my life,” he said, “and I had a lot of desire to approach this new phase in my career.”

Inter has slipped to fourth in Serie A, 11 points behind leader Napoli.

It could slip out of the Champions League places if Roma wins its match in hand on Wednesday.

“I hope to play in as many matches as possible and help the team to reach our objective which is Champions League qualification,” Rafinha said.