Burnley-Manchester City Preview
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.
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.
Updated October 18, 2018
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