It’s a myth that goalkeepers don’t win you titles. Yes, they can help prevent you from throwing them away, but a top class custodian is worth much more than that; at least a dozen points. This is why, despite their distinctly uninspired start to the new season, Manchester City still have to be regarded as nailed on certainties to retain their Premier League title next May.
Rated as 13/8 favourites the bookies tend to agree, but at this stage they’re not wholly convinced. Given that Chelsea’s surprisingly impressive form has catapulted them into the mix, along with fellow long shots Arsenal, it appears to be much less of a two-horse race than most people imagined. They may have won at Old Trafford but Andre Villas-Boas’ Spurs still need not concern themselves with this contest, incidentally.
In truth there isn’t a great deal to choose between the strongest XIs of all four (yes Tottenham fans, four) main protagonists.
Going forward they can all pack a pretty serious punch. City’s all-action quartet, United’s variant goal machines, Chelsea’s nippy little creators, and Arsenal’s incisive forward line will all bag a hatful. Scoring goals really isn’t going to be too much of a concern.
In midfield the champions might edge it alongside the Emirates keep-ball kings, but as we’ve seen already this term both the Blues and Red Devils can dominate the engine room when at full strength and in the mood. Games will be dictated by the efforts of those in the central battlefield but their influence might not prove decisive.
Defensively all the contenders possess flaws. On their day Roberto Mancini’s men are possibly the most secure unit but none can claim to be impenetrable in the light of early season frailties that have been exposed.
To me, there are just two distinct and decisive differences that mark Roberto Mancini’s men out from the rest. The first is unsurprisingly, depth. The second is Joe Hart.
There isn’t a better goalkeeper in the world than Joe Hart. He’s not flawless, and has been prone to the occasional lapse in concentration, but as the England shot stopper displayed recently against Borussia Dortmund, he is undoubtedly special.
Commanding, calm, gifted, technical and most importantly of all, reliable, Hart will almost certainly make the difference in this season’s potentially gripping title race.
Not least, because none of their rivals can boast anything in remotely the same class.
Yes, Petr Cech was once among the world’s elite, but even the most die-hard Chelsea fans must be casting their eye on the impressive exploits of on-loan number two Thibaut Courtois and wondering when he’ll step in.
The promise of Wojciech Szczesny is undeniable but question marks over his decision-making and positioning remain. While Sir Alex Ferguson’s baffling indecision over who is his true number one will surely come back to haunt him.
Those of a certain vintage will recall Ron Greenwood’s decision to rotate Peter Shilton and Ray Clemence in the late 70s and early 80s but in club football it’s imperative that a defence has consistent stability.
Defending is all about teamwork, unity and cohesion, and United – in my view – can only suffer from the random use of David de Gea and Anders Lindegaard. The defenders in front of them won’t admit it unsettles them, but how can it not?
So there you have it. Joe Hart will win Manchester City the Premier League title next May. Not just because he’s good, but because no one else has anyone who can rival him.
Listen to Adrian on this weeks brilliant Red White and Blue Football Podcast HERE