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.

Leicester City’s Rodgers: ‘Good news’ on Vardy injury

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Brendan Rodgers says there’s good news when it comes to the injury suffered by Jamie Vardy in Leicester City’s 4-1 blowout of West Ham United on Wednesday.

Vardy hurt his glute in the win, temporarily returning to the match after treatment from the trainer but ultimately subbing off before halftime.

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“It wasn’t his hamstring, so that’s good news for us,” Rodgers said, via The Leicester Mercury.

“He just felt a twinge in his glute, so we just have to wait and see on that in the next day or so. Thankfully his hamstring is okay and he just felt some pain in his glute, so we will have to assess that over the next few days.”

Vardy has a Premier League-best 17 goals, one more than Man City’s Sergio Aguero.

He was replaced by Kelechi Iheanacho, who assisted one of Ayoze Perez’s two goals on the day. Perez’s seven goals are second on Leicester, while James Maddison‘s six are third.

Iheanacho has six goals and three assists in 485 minutes and there’s reason to believe he can feast off Leicester’s playmaking if Vardy needs a match or two to heal.

Whether he can fill Vardy’s shoes in the long-term is a big question, especially as Leicester aims to return for the Champions League.

Transfer rumor roundup: Willian Jose to Spurs, Bournemouth after Croatian CB

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London could get itself another Willian.

Willian Jose, 28, was left out of Real Sociedad’s squad at his request on Wednesday, with the club Tweeting that he’d prefer not to play until his situation is resolved.

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Jose Mourinho said he would not comment on another team’s players, but Willian Jose could help Spurs bridge the gap to Harry Kane‘s return.

Willian Jose has been a double-digit scorer for Real Sociedad in La Liga for the previous three seasons, and is well on his way to another 10-goal campaign. He’s got eight goals in 20 matches this season.

Bournemouth needs defensive help, and is reportedly rivaling Newcastle United and Blackburn Rovers for Portuguese giant Toni Borevkovic.

The 22-year-old Croatian has one goal in just over 3000 minutes with the side since arriving from domestic side NK Rudes.

He’s averaging 1.3 interceptions, .9 tackles, and 3.3 clearances per game in league play.

Rio Ave sits seventh in Portugal’s top flight and is managed by former Premier League boss Carlos Carvalhal.

Dropped points in Top Four race point to wild February

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Regardless of whether Wolves end Liverpool’s unbeaten Premier League season on Thursday, there will be five teams within seven points of fourth place heading into Matchweek 25.

Chelsea has 40, a comfortable-enough six-point lead on Manchester United, Spurs, and Wolves (who meet Liverpool at 3 p.m. ET Thursday on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com). Sheffield United has 33 points.

February, specifically the next three matchweeks, will see the teams inside that group learn a lot more about their fates, and give Chelsea and Sheffield United big opportunities to cement their places in the Top Four and Seven, respectively.

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In the case of the latter, it’s because the Blades are the only team in the bunch who don’t face a Top Four six-pointer; Chris Wilder‘s men will meet Crystal Palace, Bournemouth, and Brighton, while the others will be beating up each other.

Chelsea’s path is fraught, but a big opportunity. The Blues travel to Leicester City before hosting both Manchester United and Spurs. Nine points there would effectively Top Four-proof Frank Lampard‘s side.

By the way, how’s this for a hot take? If any of Chelsea, Man Utd, or Spurs find their center forward or playmaker help in the window, they’ll have a leg up on their Top Four rivals. And, really, is that extra few million pounds worth the spoils of the Champions League? Yup.

Bruno Fernandes is not (yet) with United, and the Red Devils face Wolves and Chelsea in their next two matches. Spurs have City and Chelsea. Tumult is probable!

A draw with Newcastle and loss at Watford dampened Wolves’ hopes of riding into fourth. Beginning with Thursday’s visit from Liverpool, however, Nuno Espirito Santo‘s men face three of the Top Seven and then a visit from Norwich City. It’s not over.

And don’t entirely rule out Leicester City from dropping into the fray; The Foxes host Chelsea and Man City, and visit Wolves.

One more nod, however improbable: Arsenal sits 10 points back of fourth but meets Burnley, Newcastle, and Everton over those three match weeks. A perfect run could have the Gunners thinking big (Man City is after that, alas).

Matchday 25
Leicester City v. Chelsea
Crystal Palace v. Sheffield United
Manchester United v. Wolves
Spurs v. Man City

Matchday 25
Sheffield United v. Bournemouth
Wolves v. Leicester City
Chelsea v. Manchester United
Aston Villa v. Tottenham Hotspur

Matchday 27
Chelsea v. Tottenham Hotspur
Leicester City v. Man City
Wolves v. Norwich City
Sheffield United v. Brighton
Manchester United v. Watford

Spurs play Wolves the next week, too!

Mourinho: Spurs don’t have attacking depth, but do have ‘family’

Mourinho on Spurs win
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In this “whole new Jose Mourinho” world, the key word is family.

Mourinho said it six times in his post-match presser after Tottenham Hotspur scrapped to a 2-1 defeat of Norwich City on Wednesday in London.

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Spurs had an early lead disappear when Ryan Sessegnon gave away a penalty to Max Aarons, and Teemu Pukki converted it for a 70th-minute deadlock.

Heung-Min Son scored nine minutes later. It was a win that is good for the whole family.

From Football.London:

“It was fantastic what happened after the 1-1, which happens in a difficult moment for us where I look to the bench and I don’t have attacking players to change the game the team is a little bit fatigued, especially Lucas, Son and of course Lamela. I took him off because he was in trouble and he is a player who is coming from very important and long injury, so very difficult.

“How can we change the game? With the family spirit, the family character and desire.”

Mourinho also praised Giovani Lo Celso‘s work on the wing for attack-short Spurs as “a good experience for the family,” and Paulo Gazzaniga‘s support for returned goalkeeper Hugo Lloris as “a good member of the family and he is such a special friend of Hugo.”

I mean, I’m getting the warm and fuzzies.

Clearly, Mourinho is stressing unity and there’s a bit of bunker mentality involved, as the manager mentioned some dicey calls not going their way against Watford, Liverpool, and now Norwich.