Hart’s happy return

It’s almost as if Joe Hart had it all mapped out.

Despite not being any closer to a move away from Manchester City in the summer, the ex-England No1 was adamant when he told reporters – after a surprise pre-season appearance against Borussia Dortmund – his situation at the time absolutely would be resolved.

A few days prior to the transfer window closing, that situation looked bleak. With limited options and a ticking clock, it almost became believable a one-time homegrown hero was set for a bizarre campaign as Pep Guardiola’s third-choice goalkeeper.

Then injury struck to Burnley’s Nick Pope and Hart, shrewdly recognised by Sean Dyche as an ideal, low-cost replacement, was in claret and blue almost overnight. Three clean sheets in his first three appearances followed and demons from a forgettable three years – when he was cast aside by a club he’d played 348 games for, when he struggled in an unfamiliar Serie A with Torino, when he was dropped for the man he was brought in to replace on loan at West Ham, and when he was omitted from an England tournament squad for the first time in ten years – were swiftly banished.

Now, as he prepares to return to the Etihad two-and-a-half years after his final competitive appearance at the stadium, Hart is back to his imposing best.

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His emphatic start to life at Turf Moor hasn’t been a false dawn. For goalkeepers to have played more than two games this season, Hart tops the list for saves per game (tied with Lukasz Fabianski on 4.4). Yes, he’s naturally had an opportunity to face more shots in a struggling Burnley side, but if we’re lauding the likes of Sergio Aguero and Mo Salah for shots per game, we shall afford that same luxury to goalkeepers. If anything, the fact Hart has conceded just 12 goals – less than eight other Premier League first-choice stoppers, including David de Gea – makes the stat even more impressive.

Hart has found his happy place. He’s found his perfect team. At a stable club under an English manager who believes in him, Hart can play the style of football he suits. He’s found himself back in the scenario of being judged on what he can do – not the ball-playing perfectionism he was deemed incapable of at City. Dyche won’t want Hart to take too many risks and has instead honed on his strengths; save, collect, punch, find the channels.

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Above all else, Hart feels he has a point to prove. Active social media posts, a change in representation and a refreshing honesty about his desire to ditch a bumper salary at the Premier League champions suggested the 31-year-old had sought clarity in the summer. His comeback has unquestionably been a success. His consistency, now Burnley have turned the tide on their poor early season form, is paying off.

Shutting City out this Saturday would be the final piece of redemption he deserves. Regardless of whether it happens or not, he’ll leave the Etihad knowing his career is back on the up. Go, Joe.

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