It's no secret that Joe Hart, Yaya Touré, and Samir Nasri have all been absent from the squad since the start of competitive play under new Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola. While many may have expected the exclusion of Toure and perhaps Nasri, the fanbase has been shocked by the Catalan's decision to bench City and England number one, Joe Hart. Despite the occasional slip-up, the England international often contends for City's best player. With notable performances against the likes of the Barcelona team that ran rampant in 2014/15, no one would've imagined that Willy Caballero would usurp Hart's place between the sticks. Yet, under Guardiola, the former Shrewsbury Town man has found himself in a comfy sideline seat rather than making jaw-dropping saves on the field.
Understandably, much has been made about the decision to drop Hart. The former number one's position seemed almost untouchable in years previous due to both his excellence in performance as well as the underwhelming nature of Caballero's time on the field. Whenever the former Malaga keeper was allowed to play, he would make silly mistakes and often played a significant role in negative results for City. In the eyes of many, the backup keeper was a liability. Even after his heroics in the Capital One Cup final last year, Caballero has never instilled a sense of confidence in those around him.
Hart, on the other hand, always has. His world class one-on-one saves in critical games have cemented his place in the hearts and minds of the City faithful. The leaky defense in front of Hart never seemed to stop the athletic Englishman from making some out of this world saves, and thus, the Sky Blue supporters have grown attached. In an era where few English-born players excel at the precipice of football, Joe Hart was the gleaming example that English fans could point to with relative pride as someone that was competing among the elite.
However, though Hart's skill set as a pure goalkeeper has never really been in question, it's the other aspects of his game that will keep him out of Guardiola's plans. A cornerstone of Pep Guardiola's playing philosophy is the ability to play the ball and start possession at the back. In short, the purpose of this is to stretch and overextend the opposition so that the formational and positional tactics that are ingrained in the outfield players can be more efficiently utilized in convergence with the team's strong passing ability.
Guardiola views goalkeepers that aren't able to actively and consistently pass as a waste. It's an extra outlet in a system that requires as many outlets as physically possible. In Xavi Hernandez' piece for The Guardian, he speaks about his former manager's affinity for those who can pass: "Pep once said if he could play with 11 midfielders he would, if he could have 100% of the ball he would do that too."
Even if you only look at the statistics, Hart is at a loss in regards to what his new manager sees as a necessary quality. His pass completion, excluding long balls, is at an astonishingly low 56%, and his distribution accuracy lingers around the same area at 59%. Meanwhile, Guardiola's rumored target, Claudio Bravo, has a higher distribution and passing accuracy than Guardiola's first choice keeper at Bayern Munich, Manuel Neuer. Bravo's passing statistics are among the best in the world with both these vital statistics sitting at 86% and 85% respectively. This isn't saying that Guardiola, or anyone for that matter, thinks that Hart is a bad goalkeeper, he just doesn't possess the skill set that he sees necessary to make his system the best that it can be.
When Guardiola arrived at Barcelona, he famously sent Deco and Ronaldinho packing and had plans to do the same to Samuel Eto'o before the Cameroonian made a case for himself. We can all agree that both Deco and Ronaldinho were players of immense quality, yet they weren't considered essential to Pep's plans. Does this mean they're sub-par or worse than the players at hand? No. It simply means that Guardiola doesn't think their skill set is something that could help the team. Some have called it ruthless, but one could easily make a case to say that it's considerate. Rather than castigating the player to the bench, wasting their precious career time without a chance of first team football, he's being honest with them, allowing them to move to a place where they are needed and will be fully utilized.
The same goes for the other players. Some have said that they can't see why Raheem Sterling was given a chance and Hart wasn't, but there's a lot wrong with that statement. Hart was given an opportunity in pre-season but just didn't seem comfortable enough on the ball to constitute a starting spot. Sterling is someone that provides pace and width to the team, a key in Guardiola's system. The ability to hold the width is something that has been a part of Guardiola's tactics since his days at Barcelona, and something that continues to be essential. So far, it seems to be paying off.
Touré's shortcomings were always going to be a setback for the City legend. His off-ball contributions were the main focus of last season's criticism, and the new manager has honed in on exactly that. "I have a lot of respect for Yaya, a good relation. I know when he is going to increase a little bit his intensity without the ball, he will be part of the group, if he wants to stay."
Pep Guardiola isn't a ruthless manager seeking to hijack control of the squad by sacrificing players' careers through malicious actions. He's just trying to make this talented City squad the best it can be.