Is Pellegrini set to opt for Hart over Pantilimon?

With tomorrow’s Capital One Cup Final on the horizon, the question over who Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini will opt for in goal has popped back onto the lips of the fans. Throughout the domestic cups this season, the Chilean has started with the player who is at that moment second choice. During the FA Cup run, that has been solely Costel Pantilimon, but the Romanian has shared the League Cup duties with Joe Hart – when the England international was dropped in December.

The only real surprise of this tale so far is the names involved. Before the last trip to Wembley, it seemed likely that Pantilimon would be between the sticks – the back-up goalkeeper had played in every round to that point and conceded just one goal in the entire competition.

But, just two days before, he made an ill-advised move: In an interview with the press, Pantilimon commented that he may need to leave the Blues in order to guarantee first team football and thusly put himself into competition for the number one jersey with his national team. Two days before a cup final that you’re likely to play in isn’t really the best time to bring that up – it’s akin to telling the chef that’s about to cook your meal that you screwed his wife and ran over his dog. Time and a place, and all that.

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There’s been nothing confirmed, but it seems more than likely that then manager Roberto Mancini swapped his goalkeepers for the final – which the Blues would go on to lose in the last minute to Wigan – in light of those comments. While it was understandable Pantilimon thought that way, it doesn’t exactly scream “I’m in the right frame of mind for this big important match at the weekend!”

For that reason, I expected the Romanian to move on in the summer. When he joined the club permanently – in the January of 2012, having spent the first half of 2011-12 on loan at the Etihad – he commented that he was well aware he’d be taking up the role of understudy. However, the chance to train with, play a few cup games with, and be there in case the eventual league champions needed him was an offer too good to refuse. But, when told he needed to play more to represent his country, it seemed like a no-brainer that he’d be plying his trade elsewhere.

But he’s not.

And, when the topic came up for discussion on the most recent BlueMoon Podcast (which is utterly fab, by the way, so go and download it), everybody in the studio seemed to agree that Pellerini would be picking the 6ft 8in shot-stopper on Sunday. Although the consensus still seemed to be that we would all prefer him to put out his first-choice keeper.

But then, when at the pre-match media day at Carrington on Friday, the way Pellegrini spoke to the press suggested that he might be considering his strongest XI. He was asked about his starting line-up (which he refused to reveal for obvious reasons) and about the players who had contributed to the run.

His response was interesting: “It’s not easy to choose the eleven that start. All the players deserve to play. A lot of them have played the whole Capital One [Cup]. They’ve play the Capital One, other players have played the Premier League or the FA Cup or the Champions League because at that moment it was necessary for them to play in that competition. I will try to choose the best 11 for this game as I did in all the other games.”

Which, to me, sounds like a manager who’s desperate to win his first trophy in England at the first attempt. In other words – it doesn’t matter that he’s played his second-choice goalkeeper throughout. It doesn’t matter that Joleon Lescott hasn’t missed a minute in the competition. All that matters is lifting the trophy by Sunday evening.

And the way he was speaking in his press conference suggests that Manchester City will be playing their strongest available team. No cup goalkeepers, no players given a chance to stake a claim for the first team, no youngsters. Just a team that Pellegrini considers his best XI.

Later in the press conference – after the embargo was placed (which is why this article is on Saturday and not Friday, honest, your honour… it’s got ABSOLUTELY NOTHING TO DO with the writer being lazy or owt) – Pellegrini was asked directly if he had made the decision which goalkeeper would play.

“Yes, I think I already have my decision,” he said. “But unfortunately you can not know it until Sunday.”

I said on the BlueMoon Podcast that I wanted Hart to play, but felt that Pellegrini would choose Pantilimon. Now, though, I’m not so sure – I think I might just get my wish.

Written by David Mooney

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