Manuel Pellegrini is considering dropping Joe Hart for Manchester City's visit of Everton following the much-criticised England goalkeeper's mistakes against Bayern Munich, with the manager admitting he now faces a "very difficult decision".
Hart was at fault for Franck Ribéry's opening goal and Arjen Robben's final strike in the 3-1 win by the Champions League holders at the Etihad Stadium on Wednesday evening and his performance followed a number of other high-profile errors this season. Should he be dropped, his position would be taken by the Romanian Costel Pantilimon, who impressed during City's FA Cup campaign last term but has never played in the Premier League.
In City's 3-2 defeat at Cardiff City in August, a Hart error allowed the Welsh club's second goal, with the goalkeeper having previously contrived to let a James Morrison shot slip in for Scotland's opener in England's 3-2 friendly win at Wembley.
Following the Cardiff game Pellegrini insisted he would always select on form not name. Reminded of these comments in the light of Hart's display against Bayern, the manager said: "It's a very difficult decision and we will see tomorrow [Saturday] what is my final decision. Really at the moment it's very difficult. Tomorrow we will see what's the best decision."
The Chilean's deliberation over Hart's place is in marked contrast to Roy Hodgson, the England manager, who on Thursday confirmed Hart remains the No1 and backed him to return to the form of last season, when he was being described as one of the best keepers in the world.
When it was put to Pellegrini that it must have been a boost for Hart to hear this, he said: "I don't tell you now if Joe will play tomorrow because the players don't know yet. Of course Joe knows he must improve the way he is playing but of course he has our trust. Of course, he feels that he didn't do very well but I think he doesn't have any problem.
"He continues with the trust of all the team and with our trust so we hope he will recover from what he did last match. After the game, I always speak with all the players, not only with Joe Hart, and we analyse what we did in that match and the reasons why we lost the game and the reasons also when we win.
"We conceded three goals to Bayern Munich. That is not only Joe Hart's responsibility, it was not only him who was guilty for what happened. He has an important amount but I always talk with all the players. We analyse all the goals, it is very easy to say the goalkeeper fails but there are other reasons also.
"Pantilimon is a very good goalkeeper also. He has the right to play. He is working hard and I am absolutely sure if it is tomorrow or another game and Pantilimon must play, he will do well."
Having impressed in City's 4-1 derby rout of Manchester United, Yaya Touré was particularly disappointing against Bayern. However, Pellegrini has backed his key midfielder to return strongly. "He is human," Pellegrini said. "Of course, you need your best players for big games, but sometimes it happens for big players, for good players, that it is not their day. But I think that Yaya Touré has been a very important player for us during the whole season and he will continue in his same role. He can play, like any other player, a bad game."
The Chilean is now only looking forward. "I think football is the present and that it [then] passes," he said. "It's very important to analyse what we do every match, but after the match it is finished – the good things and the bad things. You must think of the next game. We trust that [against Everton] will be the same team that will play the whole season."
Given the team's display against Bayern, is it reasonable to expect at least two more years will be needed to win the Champions League? "No, it's not a conclusion to draw after the game against Bayern Munich," Pellegrini said. "I think we played against Bayern in the Audi Cup in Munich [losing 2-1, in pre-season] and we did very well. It was a bad night, but of course to win the Champions League is not an easy task."
Could City, then, triumph this season? "We will try to do it. Nothing has happened because we lost three points against Bayern. We will try to qualify from the group and if we qualify through the round of the last 16 in February, then all things can change. It will be very difficult to do it, but we will try."