The goalkeeping dilemna

With pre-season now done and dusted, attention very much turns to the start of the Premier League and what is anticipated to be a long and successful season.

There are undoubtedly question marks regarding team selection and formation right throughout the team, with Roberto Mancini's likely 25-man squad featuring no 'fillers' or names merely making up the numbers. All players who do make the cut will legitimately feel they have a shot of making the starting XI.

With European participation during 2010/11 such numbers could become crucial as the effect of constant games takes its toll on a squad that saw many feature prominently in the recent World Cup.

The area that has the most intrigue surrounding it however is in goal, with two candidates for the number 1 jersey with very equal claims on the position. Certainly lookingg around the rest of the Premier League there is no other side who has two such strong and equal candidates battling for the goalkeeping spot.

Having spent last season on loan at Birmingham, my thoughts initially were that Joe Hart would be farmed out once again during 2010/11, with a further season under his belt seeing him then ready to take over from Shay Given in the summer of 2011. However, Hart's superb form last season coupled with the uncertainty over Given's fitness following his late season injury meant Hart remained at the club.

Interestingly though, Given has returned from injury far quicker than expected and is ready for the season opener, whilst Hart cut short his post-World Cup holiday in a bid to get a head start on the recent tour of the US. Having split time relatively equally (particularly the games against Borussia Dortmund and Valencia) pre-season has failed to separate the two and we are no clearer as to knowing who will be in possession of the jersey at White Hart on Saturday lunchtime with Mancini yet to tip his hat.

The difficulty for Mancini though may be not the decision itself, but the ramifications of it. Despite their different ages and futures, both are ambitious and know that they need to be number 1 - Given primarily due to his age and Hart to ensure that his likely selection as England number 1 is maintained. Judging by their recent comments neither will be satisfied being the back up:

Joe Hart:

"Sitting on the bench doesn't really interest me if I'm honest. I've played a lot of first‑team football now and that's all I want to do."

Shay Given:

"Joe and I have both got international ambitions with England and Ireland. But at 34 I've only got a few years left playing so I want to be playing every week.

"If I don't start then I'll sit down with the club next week and see where my future lies, and maybe vice-versa with Joe, because we will both feel we should be playing.

I want to be part of it, which is why I joined in the first place. If I don't start I guess it's an advantage the transfer window will still be open.

Maybe I'll go out on loan, come back and see where that takes me. But I know I'm at a stage where I need to be playing. I'm 34, and I've not got millions of years left."

Unlike other positions within the side, rotation isn't an option available to Mancini - at best the back-up will get a handful of games in the Carling Cup and possibly Europa League, primarily because being such a pivotal position continuity and confidence is so key. Given and Hart will not be seamlessly brought in and out of the side. This will undoubtedly lead to a very disgruntled player in a position where there is often much unity between those in the squad, as there is often a very clear pecking order.

Hart's impressive showing at Birmingham last season may well have removed some of the doubts that surrounded his game - and first prompted Mark Hughes to move for Given - and showed that he is capable (despite his young age) of carrying the weight for a full Premier League season. 

Hart also has experience of winning the goalkeeping battle, when he usurped both Andreas Isaksson and Kaspar Schmeichel during Sven-Goran Eriksson's season in charge back in 2007/08.

Shay Given's form in his eighteen months at the club has been excellent and more than justified Hughes's decision. He has made a number of excellent saves during that time and from memory has not made any major errors or cost the side during a game.

Both 'keepers do have faults and limitations, most notably with the command of their area and having seen hesitancy in the defensive ranks cost points throughout last season, the side can ill afford to be shooting themselves in the foot.

At the stage the club is now at, there match winners throughout the side and they will be needed if City to realistically challenge on a number of fronts for trophies and Champions League qualification. The merits of both keepers are obvious and in some respects, whatever the decision Mancini makes cannot really be criticised as both have strong cases.

With the battle for points ever more important, the slightest margins this season could be the difference between success and failure. In that respect you need more than a safe pair of hands in goal, you need a keeper capable of snatching a point or a victory almost single handledly if required.

Joe Hart's star is definitely on the rise. 2009/10 saw him perform way above expectation and his progression was evident. I believed it would take another season for him to legitimately unseat Given, but he looks ready to take on the mantle as outright number 1 and do believe this is the way which Mancini will ultimately lean.

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