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West Ham Season Preview #4: Can Joe Hart re-cement his place as England's best?

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Joe Hart joins West Ham after an underwhelming 12 months on-loan at Torino, as England’s No 1 looks to recapture his best

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Last Season

It’s no secret that Joe Hart struggled to adapt to the Italian lifestyle whilst on-loan at Torino last year, although he failed to hit the ground running, you can only sympathise with a situation left out of his control, in a bid to maintain regular first-team football.

The 30-year-old had been deemed surplus to requirements by current Citizens boss, Pep Guardiola. After a poor Euro 2016 campaign, he stated his discontent with Hart’s ability to distribute the ball, compared to Europe’s traditional, modern-day, sweeper-keeper.

AC ChievoVerona v FC Torino - Serie A
Hart endured an up-and-down season with Torino, finishing 9th in Serie A
Photo by Emilio Andreoli/Getty Images

Throughout his career Hart has been labelled a leader of men, a dominant force commanding from the back, coupled with agile reflexes and an incredible shot-stopping ability, it was easy to see what he could offer a mid-table side like Torino.

However, in a league dominated by some of the all-time greats, with a new generation of star-studded youngsters entering the foray, it was always going to push Joe to find his niche, in a nation filled with great expectation for someone of his calibre.

England’s number one endured a torrent of criticism from pundits worldwide, with question marks over his ability to maintain ‘top-level status’ as England’s best. Leaving doubts about his regular first-team selection, firm in the mind of current boss, Gareth Southgate.

During his time with il Toro, Hart failed to make any great impact, conceding a substantial 65 goals in 36 league starts, keeping only 5 clean sheets in the process.

He committed 5 costly defensive errors leading directly to goals, the second most in Europe’s top-five leagues.

The main positive from Joe’s season, was, that he made more saves per 90 metrics in the league for Torino last season (2.89) than he’s ever managed in his entire Manchester City career, the sole respite on an unforgiving term abroad. (Squawka)

Current Team Placement

1600km away in Stratford, London, two calamitous goalkeepers were both meeting the same ill-fate as England’s number one. In hindsight, if not for the shortcomings of both Darren Randolph and Adrián last season, we may never have seen Joe Hart don the famed claret and blue strip.

West Ham United v Crystal Palace - Premier League
Darren Randolph was truly shocking at times last season
Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

Whilst heading into a World Cup summer, it’s always difficult to keep an ambitious personality focused on the season ahead.

Especially after Joe Hart’s arrival, West Ham felt it best to let Randolph pursue the ambition of holding onto ROI’s number one jersey before Russia 2018, as he left to join Middlesbrough this past week.

Similar circumstances could see Adrián move across town to South London this summer, teaming-up with new Crystal Palace boss, Frank De Boer.

After owner David Sullivan’s comments regarding the signing of someone of Hart’s talent, didn’t go down too well in the eyes of the fiery Spaniard.

Whilst it’s difficult to gauge where Joe currently fits in Bilic’s system, if Adrián does depart it automatically cements his place as West Ham’s sole number one, whilst we wait to buy a potential backup.

Hypothetically, if Adrián does stay, it could set-up an interesting scenario, with both men vying for the right to be top dog in Slaven Bilić’s starting eleven.

However, it wouldn’t make sense to bring in someone of Joe Hart’s quality if we weren’t looking to utilise him, and although Adrián will stay in the hearts of many West Ham fans for years to come, it could be the best thing for both club and player to allow the cult hero to leave this summer.

Crystal Palace v West Ham United - Premier League
Adrián has forever cemented his place as one West Ham’s all-time great personalities
Photo by Charlie Crowhurst/Getty Images

Goals for this Season

- Back to basics

In todays modern game, it’s felt the main role for a goalkeeper is to operate as the eleventh man on the field, to alleviate the pressure on the back-four, by being able to command your box at all areas behind the defensive line.

Although Guardiola sent Hart out on-loan to learn that style of play from Europe’s modern-day keeper, we saw how miserably it failed when implemented under current City number one, Claudio Bravo in the Premier League last year.

On the flipside at West Ham, last season saw the demise of two outstanding shot-stoppers. Who, until last year found themselves in the form of their lives. Not a single performance went by where you couldn’t praise either Randolph or Adrián, for their match-winning capabilities.

It’s been a difficult twelve months for anyone behind the sticks at West Ham, you feel for Joe to succeed this season he needs to forget about the different fancy distribution techniques required under Pep, force any doubts about his overall ability behind him, and embark on the next chapter of his career at West Ham.

By simply being himself, focusing on his natural game, returning to the basics and recapturing that same form that made him one of the most revered keepers of his generation, that’s the Joe Hart West Ham most desperately need.

- Be a leader

The most glaring deficiency in West Ham’s team last season felt like the overall lack of leaders, which, when you look at some of the names available to Slaven’s disposal last year, felt like a far cry from the actual truth.

Manchester City v West Bromwich Albion - Premier League
Pablo Zabaleta’s leadership should resolve West Ham’s shaky issues from last season
Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images

Angelo Ogbonna, José Fonte, Mark Noble and Winston Reid are all natural born leaders on their day, however the gap between what should have been and what actually happened, felt like a strange commodity.

Whether we blame it on the grumblings of our first year at the London Stadium or a general lack of leadership, spanning from the ruptures left by Dimitri Payet’s departure, in prospect, what Joe Hart can offer West Ham going forward should excite an entire fanbase.

With the arrival of the City duo, both Pablo Zabaleta and Hart have always been the focal part of not only a title winning defence over the last decade in Manchester, but for their respective countries as well.

Their vocal presence has already been felt during West Ham’s pre-season tour of Austria and Germany, with an air of influence shown by the two leaders. Where last season felt like a lot of finger-pointing for mistakes made, if Joe can find his customary bellowing voice, it’s hard to see where a regimented defence makes the same mistakes that troubled us last time out.

Manchester City v Queens Park Rangers - Premier League
Can Joe Hart recapture his title winning form from his Manchester City days?
Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images