Three seasons back if someone had asked about the best goalkeepers in the Premier League, one name would have certainly featured among the top three or four names – that of Joe Hart. Manchester City had just pipped Liverpool to the title and Joe Hart had been their first-choice keeper, just like he had been for the previous three seasons.
He continued to be their first-choice keeper till Pellegrini was at the helm at the Etihad. Then last season, Pep Guardiola came in and sought to upgrade the keeper. He brought in Claudio Bravo and Joe Hart had to spend the season as the first-choice keeper at Torino. Now, whether Claudio Bravo had a better season in Manchester than what Joe Hart had in Turin, is completely debatable. Or, whether Bravo was an upgrade over Hart is also debatable. Perhaps not, as City went ahead and splashed £35 million on Benfica keeper Ederson several weeks back.
But, one thing that is undeniable is that Joe Hart’s performances in Turin gave Guardiola no reason not to look for a better keeper than both Hart and Bravo. So, it is not surprising that City have again chosen to loan out Hart, this time not to the far shores of Italy but to a Premier League team. Earlier on Tuesday, Joe Hart joined West Ham United on a season-long loan for a reported loan fee plus wages of £4.5 million (2.5 million to Hart as wages, while 2.0 million to City). The London club also seems to have an option to buy the keeper for £10 million.
One can argue that it is a win-win deal for all parties involved. West Ham get a two-time Premier League champion goal keeper, who is arguably, even in his current form, an upgrade over their current options – Adrian and Darren Randolph. Manchester City ensure that they do not have a third-choice keeper clamoring for regular first-team football on their books. On the other hand, for Hart, it is an important season that ends in a world cup, so he needs regular game time, which the Hammers should be able to provide. It is especially important for Hart, as younger English keepers like Heaton and Pickford are staking their claim to an England berth and if he does not get regular football, there is a real risk of being left out of the World Cup in Russia next year.
Let us look at a few stats to see if the above logic is supported by goalkeeping numbers as well. First of all, the player – Joe Hart let in 62 goals in Torino’s net in the 2016-17 Serie A season. Probably it reflects the stature of Torino in Serie A and the quality of defense that was screening him but he had to put in 2.53 saves every 90 minutes. But the damning stat is that Hart gave away a goal for every 1.49 saves he made. Combining these two numbers make it clear why the goals conceded are so high. He put in a high number of punches (0.58) and catches (2.97) but perhaps this tendency to leave the line cost him more than he gained from it. Several videos on Youtube, such as this one reflect this. Many of his errors for Torino came from missed or mishit punches and failed attempts at catches. All these mistakes and the aforementioned comparatively weaker defense, led Hart to have his worst league season of all time with a WhoScored rating of only 6.51. If he hopes to get first-team football at the London Stadium, it is imperative that he improves his keeping quite a lot.
But one might ask that despite their loanee having such a torrid time in Italy, do City really need to drop Hart the way they have done? The answer is not in the keeping options they had till 2016-17 but the ones they will have in 2017-18. Claudio Bravo was poorer than Hart in terms of saving shots. There was a time last season when he was letting in all the shots on target, which is reflected in his 1.08 saves per goal stat. But it is not Bravo on whom Pep is banking. Pep is depending on Ederson, who had an excellent season for Benfica. 17 clean sheets and only 12 conceded goals in 27 league appearances indicate good goalkeeping talent and form, even though Ederson was screened by a good defense by Primeira Liga standards. As a result, he made opponents work really hard for goals saving 4.08 shots on target before allowing a goal. Ederson will be looking forward to a starting berth for City.
That leaves us with West Ham’s current keepers. Adrian and Randolph leaked 64 goals in 38 combined appearances. They kept 10 clean sheets but they did not make their opponents work really hard for their goals, reflected by saves per goal numbers of 2.0 and 1.41. Joe Hart also scores over them in distribution accuracy. Both Adrian and Randolph distributed long and with low accuracy (55-56%). But Hart kept his distribution relatively shorter and more accurate (73%). He was also more proactive, as compared to Hammers’ current goalkeepers and also committed fewer errors leading to goal than Randolph, who played the bulk of the league matches for West Ham last season. So, Hart does seem to be an upgrade than both the West Ham keepers.
Overall, I feel that all three parties will be benefit from this loan deal. West Ham are getting a keeper better than their current options, which means he might play the most number of games. This in turn is highly desired by Joe Hart himself. Manchester City on the other hand don’t have to pay much towards Hart’s substantial wages and do not have to deal with an angry squad member.