Pellegrini coy on Hart involvement
Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini has kept his cards firmly to his chest with regard to under-fire goalkeeper Joe Hart's chances of playing in Saturday's Barclays Premier League home clash with Norwich.
England number one Hart's error which led to Chelsea's winner in City's 2-1 league defeat at Stamford Bridge last Sunday was the latest in a series of high-profile blunders made by the 26-year-old for club and country.
He was replaced for Wednesday's Capital One Cup fourth-round tie at Newcastle by Romania stopper Costel Pantilimon, who has become City's regular goalkeeper for domestic cup competitions since joining them in the summer of 2011 and was fairly impressive in a 2-0 extra-time win.
If Pellegrini opts to stick with that selection for the Norwich contest, it will be Pantilimon's first Premier League appearance.
Various commentators have had their say on Hart's form and the manager must decide whether dropping him in the league will protect him from the limelight or further knock his confidence, but Pellegrini was giving little away on the matter at his pre-match press conference on Friday.
Asked if Hart would be returning to the team for the Norwich game, the Chilean said: ''Tomorrow you will know the answer.''
Then asked whether it was a difficult decision, he said: ''It is a decision I have to take every week with 22 players.''
Pellegrini would not be drawn on how Hart had reacted to the decision to drop him for the Newcastle fixture.
''You must ask Joe - I can't answer for him how disappointed he was,'' Pellegrini said.
''All of you and the players and me all saw what happened. But he is a football player and every week he is under the same pressure."
He added: ''I am always very careful with all the players, not only Joe.''
Asked more specifically about Pantilimon, Pellegrini said: "Every player in the squad has his right to play and I have to decide every week who will.
"Ask Costel maybe (about whether he feels he has earned his chance). He does not play too often but I always see the players every day.
"I'm always talking with all the players, not only when they are in a bad moment - also when they are in a good moment. It is my duty to do it every week."
What is certain about City's team for the Norwich contest is that it will not feature Stevan Jovetic (calf), Javi Garcia (unspecified) - who both picked up injuries in the Newcastle game - or Vincent Kompany.
City skipper Kompany has missed the last four matches due to a thigh problem, and regarding the Belgium defender, Pellegrini said: "Vincent is progressing but I think it will be after the international break maybe that he will be fit - before that I think is difficult.
"He is a very important player but I think we have a strong squad just for this case. Other players can play.
"We played the last five matches (Kompany's last appearance was when he came off in the first half of the victory over Everton on October 5), won four and lost just one against Chelsea, and I think we deserved more.
"So he is always an important player, but I think we can play also without him."
Given that the Chelsea match was the only one City have not triumphed in in their last five in all competitions, Pellegrini does not see it as being a case of his seventh-placed side "getting back to winning ways" in the Norwich game.
He has, though, stressed that the Canaries, who are 18th in the table, should not be underestimated.
He said: "We are winning games - it is not about getting back to that.
"I think Norwich are a difficult team. I saw both games (their recent league fixtures against Arsenal and Chelsea, which they lost 4-1 and 3-1 respectively).
"Against Arsenal, until minute 83, it was a very close match (Arsenal made it 3-1 at that point), and against Chelsea, they lost the match in the last five minutes.
"If we think that, playing at home, we will win easy, it is a great mistake. The team will be very conscious about that. Tomorrow we must do a very good game."
Alex McLeish, who took Hart to Birmingham on loan from Manchester City for the 2009-10 season, is certain his former charge will overcome the slump in form.
But the former Scotland boss also thinks England manager Roy Hodgson would have to think twice about selecting Hart if he became second choice for his club.
"Certainly Roy, in a team such as England's magnitude in world football, they wouldn't go - I don't think they would go - with a goalkeeper who's been out of his club football for a long period of time," McLeish said on Sky Sports News.
"I do believe that Joe will get over this.
"As Ray Clemence said, we don't know what's going to happen tomorrow. Speculation is that Pellegrini might leave him out.
"Pantilimon did really well the other night, made a great point-blank save at nil-nil, took cross balls well, but I'm sure Joe will be bursting just to show everybody he can do it. Whether he gets a reprieve from Pellegrini remains to be seen."