If, as Pep Guardiola said, Joe Hart was ‘very angry’ about being dropped for Manchester City’s opening Premier League game, then he hid it well, signing autographs and handing out a replica shirt to a young fan after the narrow 2-1 win over Sunderland.
If, however, Hart is left out of Tuesday’s Champions League qualifier against Steaua Bucharest, then his mood may darken a little more. His goalkeeping was one of the reasons why Manchester City made the semi-finals of the competition last season and, should he be surplus to requirements in Romania, the writing will be writ very large on the dressing-room wall. The Spanish media are reporting some heavy City interest in Barcelona’s Chilean keeper, Claudio Bravo.
Bravo is 33, four years older than the England number one and a year younger than Willy Caballero, who replaced Hart for Guardiola’s first match as a Premier League manager.
Bravo does not appear a man for the long term at the Etihad Stadium but he played in all but one of Barcelona’s league matches last season and went 12-and-a-half hours without conceding. Now, however, he finds himself where Hart is – unsure of his first-team place.
Caballero, who had suspected he might be sold after the departure of Manuel Pellegrini, was told midway through last week that he would be starting against Sunderland. There had, said the Argentine, been plenty of conversations between Hart and Guardiola but he was left to get on with the job of preparing for the opening game.
One of the reasons Guardiola preferred Caballero was that with the full-backs, Bacary Sagna and Gael Clichy, pushed up into midfield he needed a sweeper-keeper’. However, Cabellero is no Manuel Neuer. His first pass went straight to Sunderland’s Duncan Watmore.
“This is a very important change,” said Caballero of the tactics Guardiola now demands. “Sometimes, we have to take risks to do it and my first pass was really complicated because they could have scored.
“After that, we played better from the back. We can start playing as the boss wants but we need minutes on the pitch. Two or three players have arrived in the last week but John Stones (on his City debut) played like he has been here three or four years.”
Manchester City may be favourites to win the Premier League but it will, as Caballero conceded, take time for Guardiola’s new order to impose itself.
“We need games and minutes together to gain experience and find our rhythm and play better if we can. We know we can do it against another team.
“Here, we were under high pressure and we had to avoid making mistakes. We had to be intelligent and took the decision to play little balls to focus on keeping possession and not taking risks.”
Off the field, Guardiola’s changes have been significant. Manchester City’s players emerged with bags of mixed nuts, the product of a post-match meal. As Caballero remarked, it was a good use of time. Had they been allowed to go home straight away, match traffic meant they might not get home for a couple of hours.
In what seems a throwback to a different generation, Guardiola’s players woke up on Saturday morning in their own home rather than a hotel, which has become the Premier League norm. They then reported for an 11am training session.
“It was just a short session,” said Sagna. “It was nothing too much, just enough to wake you up. We used to do it sometimes under Manuel Pellegrini. It is not a bad idea compared to staying in your hotel room and lying on your bed.”
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies