An integral part of Manchester City’s rise to prominence in the Premier League over the past decade, goalkeeper Joe Hart faces his former team for the first time as Burnley have a tall challenge trying to kick-start their season Saturday against the reigning champions at the Etihad.
POTENTIAL STARTING XIs
Hart made his Manchester City debut in 2006 as a 19-year-old shortly after his signing from League Two side Shrewsbury Town. After a series of loans around England, Hart claimed the No. 1 shirt for City in 2010 after making the England World Cup squad. He quickly commanded the space between the sticks, setting a club record with 29 shutouts in all competitions while winning the Premier League Golden Glove award.
Hart won the award for a second straight season in 2012, capped by Manchester City’s first Premier League title in club history. A second league title followed in 2014 and by the end of the 2014-15 season, he had garnered his fourth Golden Glove. All told, Hart has captured two Premier League titles, two League Cup titles and an FA Cup title in his 10 years manning City’s goal.
With the arrival and revolution of Pep Guardiola in 2016, Hart found himself a man without a goal to defend as the Spaniard wanted goalkeepers capable of playing the ball with their feet in addition to being a shot-stopper. When City reunited Guardiola with Barcelona keeper Claudio Bravo that summer, the writing was on the wall as Hart began to look around Europe for a potential loan suitor.
Guardiola and Hart maintained a professional relationship throughout the process. His start in a second-leg Champions League qualifying tie versus Steaua Bucharest in which he served as City captain amounted to a testimonial, and Hart became the first English goalkeeper to sign with a Serie A team since the league’s inception in 1929 when he agreed to go on loan to Torino.
After a middling season in Italy, Hart moved to West Ham last season on long, but he lost the No. 1 job to Adrian during the latter part of last term. Hart and Burnley had a marriage of convenience in August – the Clarets lost No. 1 Nick Pope to a shoulder injury he is still recovering from – and signed Hart on a two-year deal.
The expectation is the City faithful will give Hart a warm reception, a sentiment echoed by Citizens defender Aymeric Laporte.
“He’s a very good goalkeeper and a very good person, too. He was well liked by all the players and I think the supporters of Manchester City love him because of his achievements over the years,” said Laporte, who trained with Hart last summer, to City’s official website. “He trained really well and was very professional during the summer, so it will be nice to see him again and I am sure he will get a fantastic reception when he walks out on Saturday.”
Hart and Guardiola maintained a very professional relationship in the process that led to his departure from Torino, and that professionalism appealed to current Burnley boss Sean Dyche as he scrambled to find a replacement for Pope, who had beaten out Hart for England’s No. 3 spot this summer in Russia.
“He has no point to prove,” Dyche told the BBC. “He just wants to get on with it. For keepers, sometimes what is in front of you helps. He wants a defensive unit he has faith with. I think there is a nice connection here. Possibly other clubs he didn’t find that connection.
“But a lot of credit goes to him for finding his way again.”
That defence has taken a few nicks as veteran left back Stephen Ward will be sidelined after undergoing knee surgery during the international break. James Tarkowski was unable to play for England due to an ankle injury suffered in Burnley’s 1-1 draw versus Huddersfield Town. The centre back – expected to play versus City — is looking forward to the potential return of midfielder Robbie Brady, who could feature in this match after missing the last 10 months with a knee injury, along with fellow playmaker Steven Defour.
“When we were flying at the start of the season those two were on fire,” Tarkowski told the Burnley Express. “It will be nice to get them back involved in the next couple of weeks. It’ll strengthen the squad a bit more and add competition for places throughout the team.”
Manchester City (6-2-0) come out of the break leading Liverpool and Chelsea on goal difference, and they could be taking a huge step closer to full strength for this match. Attacking midfielder Kevin De Bruyne will have a late fitness test to determine his availability and could see his first playing time since suffering a knee injury at practice after City’s season-opening win over Arsenal.
The original target date for the Belgium international’s return was November 11, which is when the Manchester derby will take place against United, but De Bruyne made a late – albeit unsuccessful — push to be among the 18 for City’s 0-0 draw against Liverpool prior to the break.
With this match kicking off a busy stretch of schedule – City have seven games in the next 23 days – De Bruyne’s potential return could not come at a better time as it would allow Guardiola the chance to rest veteran playmaker David Silva, who has played 335 of the last 360 minutes in their last four contests.
Even without De Bruyne’s array of offensive skills – he had 12 goals and 20 assists in all competitions last season – Manchester City still have scored a league-best 21 goals while conceding a joint-Premier League low three. Sixty-five of their 174 shots have been on target, not including seven others that struck the woodwork.
Burnley halted a four-match skid to City in all competitions with a 1-1 draw at Turf Moor in the most recent meeting last term. The Clarets are 0-2-2 all-time at the Etihad in league play and were also overrun 4-1 there in the third round of the FA Cup in January.
Per Ladbrokes, City are staggering favourites to stay unbeaten withS a win, getting 1/14 odds to claim all three points. Burnley have 12/1 odds to escape the Etihad with just one point and are 33/1 longshots to become the first Premier League team to win there since Manchester United delayed the inevitable of last season’s title.
The combination of De Bruyne’s potential return and Burnley’s somewhat tattered back line has led oddsmakers to believe there will be goals in this match. City have 3/10 odds to win this match with more than 2.5 goals, and they offer a 15/4 return with a 1-0 or 2-0 victory should Hart make things difficult for his former club.
The odds of a second straight low-scoring draw between the sides checks in with 14/1 odds, while it is almost worth putting a fiver down on a Burnley win just because — the Clarets have 70/1 odds to win with more than 2.5 goals and 90/1 for a 1-0 or 2-0 victory.
Sergio Aguero leads a parade of Manchester City options for the first goal of the game at 9/4 odds, edging Gabriel Jesus (3/1) and the trio of Leroy Sane, Raheem Sterling and Riyad Mahrez (4/1). The Silvas — first David (7/1) then Bernardo (15/2) — follow those three, and De Bruyne make an appearance at 15/2. Chris Wood is the 12th-best overall option and top Burnley choice for an 0-1 scoreline at 18/1.
Aguero (4/11), Jesus (6/10), Sterling and Mahrez (10/11) are all better than even money to score over the course of the 90 minutes, with Sane an actual even money pick. De Bruyne moves up to a somewhat surprising 9/5 option, while Wood and Vokes headline the options for the Clarets at 9/2 joint-favourites.
On the bright side, it will nice to see City supporters give Hart his due for helping raise the profile of the club with a pair of Premier League titles and five overall trophies during his decade between the sticks for the club. He was there Thursday for a quiet ceremony to mark his contributions as the club named a training pitch after him.
And then, the match will begin.
While Hart will be at the center of attention, the player who may command the most attention among his peers is Sterling. After finally ending his scoring drought at the international level with England during the break, that may be the last wall for him to hurdle to continue his progression to being an elite Premier League scorer. He has shown more and more flashes of it in the last season-plus and this could be his time to kick it into that next gear.
Then, of course, there is De Bruyne, who appears to have accelerated the powers of healing and his medical timetable to return to at least be available three weeks before the Manchester derby. The goals and assists numbers, though, only offer a glimpse of what the Belgium international offers City — De Bruyne is the players’ mind Guardiola wants on the pitch — to dare is to dream. He is the one who sees a passing angle almost everyone misses, and more importantly, he is the one with the audacity to try that pass.
Those are the type of plays that make the difference between occasional sluggish draw and grinding out a victory, moments City may need both in the Premier League and in Champions League this year as it appears more likely the Citizens will not canter to a second successive title.
Dyche will have Burnley set in their usual two banks of four, likely to leave Wood or Vokes by their lonesome with a lone attacking midfielder in support, though that will not happen often. While Burnley have claimed seven of their eight points in their last three league matches, four of those points came against two of the most offensively challenged clubs in the top flight in Cardiff City and Huddersfield Town.
Burnley have no such luxury for this contest, and in the end, City’s quality should shine through with a respectful pasting of Hart and the Clarets.
PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: MANCHESTER CITY 3, Burnley 0.
OTHER MATCH DAY 9 PREVIEWS:
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