A colossal error against Chelsea last season saw Manuel Pellegrini drop Joe Hart as his number 1. The mistake in the 2-1 defeat at Stamford Bridge back in October, which allowed Fernando Torres to tap into an empty net late on, had fans questioning whether Hart deserved to keep his place in the Manchester City starting XI. Pellegrini felt a spell on the sidelines would do the England international the world of good and subsequently called up Costel Pantilimon following the loss in west London.
Time on the bench helped Hart. The goalkeeper returned to the team a better player and was a key part of the side that helped City to their second Premier League title in three years. However, Pantilimon's move to Sunderland at the end of the season left City without a backup stopper, and with Richard Wright failing to register a first-team appearance since signing in 2012; the Citizens needed to sign another shotstopper to provide competition for Hart.
On Tuesday, they did just that. The Premier League champions bought Argentine Willy Caballero from Malaga, making him their third summer acquisition after bringing in Fernando from Porto and Bacary Sagna from Arsenal. The 32-year-old worked with Pellegrini during his time at Malaga and it's fair to say Caballero became one of La Liga's more consistent shotstoppers during his 3-year spell with Los Boquerones.
Caballero's WhoScored rating (6.90) was the 5th highest in Spain's top tier of all goalkeepers to have made at least 15 league appearances last season and more importantly, was better than Hart's Premier League rating (6.70). 12 goalkeepers with 15 or more appearances had a better rating than the latter in England's top tier last term, though that figure was better than the 2012/13 season (6.59), suggesting that genuine competition from Pantilimon brought out the best in Hart.
The signing of Caballero will provide just that following the Romanian's departure. City will be keen to defend their Premier League crown and with Chelsea, Manchester United and Liverpool all strengthening in the off-season, the signing of Malaga's former number 1 is a statement of intent. First and foremost, Pellegrini knows exactly what he is getting with Caballero. The Santa Elena-born goalkeeper was crucial to Malaga's progression to the quarter-finals of the Champions League in the 2012/13 season and the team may have dropped into Spain's second tier last term had it not been for him.
Only Keylor Navas (160) and Esteban (149) made more saves in La Liga last season than Caballero (128), while the Argentine has made the most saves over the last 2 league campaigns (253). In those 2 seasons, Hart made considerably fewer saves (149), though that will have been down to City having a better defence than Malaga.
However, five of those came last season when Pellegrini and, perhaps more importantly, Martín Demichelis were no longer at the club. Caballero and his former teammate had formed an impressive partnership in the Malaga backline during their time together and they will be able to resume this relationship for City. While Demichelis' upturn in form coincided with Hart's, the signing of Caballero will surely bring out the best in his compatriot.
For £6million, the signing of Caballero is an astute piece of business for a player who has the potential to leapfrog Hart as the Citizens' number one. The team needs strength in reserve and a goalkeeper of his calibre will undoubtedly keep Hart on his toes. Should Pellegrini feel the need to drop the Englishman in favour of Caballero, the City manager has a player at his disposal who he can trust between the sticks and one that has ample experience under in a top European league.
Do you think Willy Caballero can usurp Joe Hart as Manchester City's number 1? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below
All statistics courtesy of WhoScored.com where you can find yet more stats and player ratings.