Joe Hart is feeling that Ben Foster-induced pressure

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With the renaissance of Ben Foster’s goal-keeping prowess and his recall to the Three Lions after a three-year break from international football, the pressure is on Joe Hart to step up and perform. And it’s clear the 25 year old is feeling the squeeze.

When asked if Foster will provide the necessary competition, Hart was quick to defend himself: “I’d imagine so. Whether it’s just me here or 10 goalkeepers or whatever, I’ll always train the same, try the same and give what I’ve got. I don’t need reinvigorating. I train hard, I work hard, I want to play well. I try and play well no matter who is doing what.”

Since cracking the Starting XI after the goal-keeping debacle that was World Cup 2010, Hart has been England’s clear-cut No. 1. Success with country boosted his confidence, a key component to Hart’s growth and the foundation for stringing together two successive seasons of dominance at City. But with the glories of lifting the FA Cup in 2011 and the Premier League trophy in 2012 in the rear view mirror, Hart has struggled over the last six to nine months.

The 2012-13 Premier League season has been dotted with glaring mistakes, notably the 1-0 loss to Sunderland on Boxing Day and the 3-1 loss to Southampton in February. It’s been the same situation on the international level as a shaky match against Poland last fall led to a poor performance against Sweden when Zlatan Ibrahimovic went on his famous four goal rampage. Once a happy-go-lucky kid with the build of a bouncer, Hart’s smile lines have turned to jowls and fiery displays of frustration have become all too common.

Critics say Hart isn’t pushed hard enough at City and that Costel Pantilimon – who hasn’t been called into Roberto Mancini’s fold for two years –  isn’t providing the competition Hart requires to remain consistent. It’s a narrative that exists on nearly every team but credit Hodgson for going out and actually doing something about it. Seemingly unsatisfied with the likes of Jack Butland, John Ruddy and even the highly underrated Fraser Forster, Hodgson went out of his way to persuade Foster to end his international retirement.

While Hart admits he’s “not been brilliant” of late he seems to be taking the competition in stride, staying grounded and focused. “I’m only thinking about staying in the side for England and City, trying to be the best I can,” Hart says. “I’m in that privileged spot at the moment. I didn’t dream of this spot because I didn’t think it would happen. That No1 spot is one I want to keep.”

Fortunately for Hart, all should go well as San Marino has been outscored 16-0 in their last four matches. But if the 207th team in the world somehow manages to squeak one by the City netminder, things could get mighty interesting in the England camp.

Matic: Man Utd needs more experience in its squad

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Nemanja Matic would like to see a bit more veteran bravery in his Manchester United side.

The title-winning 29-year-old midfielder finished second in the Premier League this season, his first with the Red Devils after a strong run with Chelsea.

[ MORE: Man Utd youngster gets USMNT call-up ]

The Blues beat United in Saturday’s FA Cup Final, and Matic says the answer to winning hardware isn’t in talent as much as it is wisdom.

From the BBC:

“The only team who is better than us this year is Man City,” said Matic. “Obviously, they play amazing football. But we are second and we are in the Champions League next year, which is the most important thing. I think we need some players with some experience to bring some more qualities to our team.”

United loses one veteran cog in Michael Carrick, and both Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Wayne Rooney have skipped town in the last year.

Who could fit the bill in terms of old hats in current United positions of weakness? Well, a full offseason for Alexis Sanchez will help, and perhaps the rumors of Toby Alderweireld make the most sense of any we’ve seen in recent weeks.

MLS Things: Shuttleworth, Quintero somehow get Loons a point vs. SKC

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Entering the day, no one was arguing that hosts Minnesota United were a better side than Sporting KC.

The Loons were 11 points and 19 goals worth of differential behind Western Conference-leading KC.

[ MORE: Other MLS Things — The Archive ]

They still are, despite a 1-1 Sunday match which carried a fitting disparity on the pitch but nothing to separate the two on the scoreboard.

Khiry gets his just desserts

Oregon State product Khiry Shelton has been wonderful for Sporting KC this season, but the striker just hasn’t found the back of the goal.

That finally changed Sunday, when his downbound header got the better of Bobby Shuttleworth — more on him later — and allowed him a richly-deserved first SKC goal which could well break down the dam.

The eighth minute saw Shelton score his goal on one of just six Loons shot attempts.

Shuttleworth back in business

It’s not always sexy to go to the veteran backstop, but it looks like Adrian Heath should’ve called Bobby Shuttleworth’s name a long time ago.

Entering the day, Shuttleworth had the second-best WhoScored.com rating of any goalkeeper to appear in more than five matches (Evan Bush).

While certainly part of that has to do with the defensive actions foisted upon him, Shuttleworth was the main reason SKC’s 24-6 advantage in attempts failed to turn into anything other than a point.

Darwin

Darwin Quintero has had more good matches than bad ones since joining the Loons, and added his third goal in seven matches with this rebound finish on Sunday.

Quintero had two goals and four assists in 17 Liga MX matches, but has been perfectly revitalized by the Minnesota air.

VIDEO: Coutinho scores brilliant curler; Iniesta walks off

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It’s often funny to read the A. in front of Andres Iniesta’s surname on his match jersey, as if there’s any other.

On Sunday, the 34-year-old midfielder walked off the field for the last time (video at bottom) as a Barcelona player, handing the captain’s arm band to Lionel Messi and beginning a new era for both the club and player.

[ MORE: Bayern salutes Heynckes (again) ]

Barcelona beat Real Sociedad 1-0 on Sunday in the final La Liga match of the season.

While the match will be remembered as Iniesta’s last with Blaugranas, Philippe Coutinho gave a glimpse of the future with his eighth goal of the season and sixth in his last five games.

Barca finishes a 1-loss season with 99 goals and a 14-point lead over La Liga runners-up Atletico Madrid.

Bayern Munich fans pay tribute to Jupp Heynckes, again

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MUNICH (AP) Bayern Munich fans turned up in their thousands to bid farewell to Jupp Heynckes for a second time on Sunday.

The veteran coach is going back into retirement after leading Bayern to another league title. The side was five points adrift when he returned in October, but rebounded to wrap up the title with five rounds to spare.

[ MORE: Pellegrini to WHU inches closer ]

It might have been more for Heynckes, but Eintracht Frankfurt stunned the side to win the German Cup final on Saturday and Real Madrid emerged triumphant from the sides’ Champions League semifinal.

Bayern chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge paid tribute to the 73-year-old Heynckes for bringing “old values” such as “humanity and empathy” back to the side.

“The little downside for us is that we would have liked to give our Jupp, our coach, the nearly perfect finish, but it didn’t quite work out,” Rummenigge said of the shock defeat to Frankfurt.

Heynckes led Bayern to the Champions League, Bundesliga and German Cup titles in his previous stint in 2013, before he retired for the first time.

Bayern’s players were clearly still disappointed over Saturday’s cup defeat as they celebrated the league win on the Munich town hall balcony.

“It feels really bad, how the season ended,” said Thomas Mueller, who added that the team would try to “put a brave face on it.”