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Keeper Joe Hart: The Comeback Kid at Burnley

Let’s shine the spotlight on Joe Hart, who was the toast of England with Manchester City and the Three Lions before the champagne spilled at Torino and West Ham. Has the former superstar keeper’s comeback with Burnley signaled a real return to prominence on the pitch and in fantasy?

Joe Hart - Burnley FC - Premier League
Joe Hart is back to starring and making saves in the Premier League. Should he be back in our fantasy teams?
Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images

We all love a good comeback story, don’t we? Has goalkeeping living legend Joe Hart turned back time at Burnley with a rousing, triumphant return to his glory years, or instead are his Aargh-inducing efforts of recent seasons a truer indicator of how things will turn out with the Clarets?

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THE GOOD OLD DAYS

Once upon a time, Joe Hart was the #1 keeper at Manchester City, winning two Premier League crowns in 2011-12 and 2013-14. Hart was an absolutely vital part of those great teams, taking three straight Golden Glove awards from 2010-11 through 2012-13 with an astonishing total of 55 clean sheets in that spell, and doing so again with 14 in 2014-15.

Correspondingly, Hart manned the top keeper spot with the Three Lions, featuring for his national team at the 2012 Euros held in Poland & Ukraine and the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. Hart was on top of the world... or at least England. If you think back, it is easy to summon the image of Hart advancing quickly, making himself big with arms and legs akimbo like a giant octopus, confidently parrying attacks with ease.

FADED GLORY

But what goes up must inevitably come down, and several dodgy performances by Hart led to Pep Guardiola elevating Willy Caballero to the top spot at City for the 2016-17 season. Hart was loaned out to Torino of Serie A for a forgettable campaign with the mid-table side in Italy. He then returned to the EPL and a bad West Ham squad in 2017-18, failing to elevate a Hammers team that flirted with relegation. In parallel lines, his howlers at the Euro 2016 competition held in France doomed Hart’s international career, and he was unable to crack the 2018 World Cup team under youth-oriented Gareth Southgate.

FROM GREAT TO AWFUL, BY THE NUMBERS

From 2010-11 through 2012-13, Hart was an absolutely phenomenal keeper in both real life and fantasy, scoring 175, 166 and 158 points in the Official FPL format. By comparison, Manchester United’s David De Gea scored 172 points last season and was universally regarded as the best keeper in the Premier League. The 2nd best season De Gea has recorded? Just 142 points in 2015-16.

Let’s take a look at the statistics and see what happened when Hart seemingly lost his magic and got old in an instant. From 2007-08 through 2011-12, Hart secured a save percentage of 75-77% in all but one season; in the three seasons for City thereafter, that mark dropped to 70-72%, before plummeting all the way down to 66% in his final season wearing Sky Blue. The years didn’t overlap exactly, but there was a similar story with clean sheet percentage, which ranged from 45-47% between 2010-11 and 2012-13, before falling to 39-43% in his last three campaigns in Manchester. Several extra scattered goals here and there over the season, and a couple/few clean sheets lost as a result, that can be the difference between elite and faded.

Joe Hart EPL Stats thru 2017-18

SEASON TEAM GAMES CLEAN SHEETS CS % SAVES GOALS CONC. SAVE % FPL PTS PTS/GM
SEASON TEAM GAMES CLEAN SHEETS CS % SAVES GOALS CONC. SAVE % FPL PTS PTS/GM
2007-08 Man. City 26 7 27% 107 34 76% 103 3.96
2008-09 Man. City 23 6 26% 65 31 68% 75 3.26
2009-10 Man. City 36 10 28% 125 42 75% 140 3.89
2010-11 Man. City 38 18 47% 108 33 77% 175 4.61
2011-12 Man. City 38 17 45% 97 29 77% 166 4.37
2012-13 Man. City 38 18 47% 78 34 70% 158 4.16
2013-14 Man. City 31 13 42% 71 30 70% 117 3.77
2014-15 Man. City 36 14 39% 87 34 72% 142 3.94
2015-16 Man. City 35 15 43% 71 36 66% 134 3.83
2017-18 West Ham 19 4 21% 53 39 58% 59 3.11

Following the unsuccessful exile to Italy, Hart’s EPL return via loan to West Ham (and the bright lights of London) was not the comeback he had hoped for. Playing behind a bad defense and a poor team, Hart’s numbers — losses in over half his games, clean sheets in only 21% of his appearances, and just 58% of SOTs saved — were by far the worst marks of his career. If anything, it seemed like Hart’s storied Premier League career was sadly over.

And even if he did return, why would anybody want him in fantasy? Hart had fallen precipitously from a high of 4.61 FPL ppg with Manchester City in 2010-11 all the way down to 3.11 ppg with the Hammers in 2017-18. What team could possibly turn around his fortunes?

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KEEPER STARS OF BURNLEY

Burnley has been a truly phenomenal story under Sean Dyche. The team was one-and-done in the Premier League in 2014-15, but returned quickly in 2016-17. Not only did the squad manage to stay up that season, it used it as a springboard to great success in 2017-18 when the Clarets finished 7th after making a real charge at the rarefied air of the top six.

Unlike, for instance, Eddie Howe’s Bournemouth, goal scoring has been a serious deficiency for Dyche’s Burnley. Instead, the Turf Moor wonders have been brilliant in the back, making lives difficult for opposing offenses with clamp-down defense and strong goalkeeping. In 2014-15 and 2016-17, Tom Heaton was the stalwart keeper. After Heaton’s shoulder was injured early in 2017-18, young Nick Pope stepped in, impressively outperforming Heaton and keeping the top spot even when the veteran returned to health late in the season. On top of that, Pope joined Southgate’s Three Lions squad (basically replacing Heaton) as a back-up to Everton’s Jordan Pickford at the 2018 World Cup in Russia along with Stoke’s Jack Butland.

Taking a look at the numbers, Heaton and Pope were phenomenal. From 2014-15 to 2016-17, Heaton improved from 26% up to 29% in clean sheet percentage, from 71% to 75% in save percentage, and from 3.95 up to 4.26 fantasy points per game. [Remember how David De Gea’s 2nd best fantasy season was 142 points? Heaton’s only two seasons returned 150 and 149 points. For another comparison, Hugo Lloris, recent World Cup winner with France and keeper for Tottenham, which consistently boasts one of the Premier League’s best defenses, has never tallied more than 144 points in a season.] Amazingly, Nick Pope proved even better than Heaton, with a 31% clean sheet mark, 77% save ratio, and 152 fantasy points (4.34 ppg).

Burnley EPL Keeper Stats thru 2017-18

SEASON #1 KEEPER GAMES CLEAN SHEETS CS % SAVES GOALS CONC. SAVE % FPL POINTS PTS/GM
SEASON #1 KEEPER GAMES CLEAN SHEETS CS % SAVES GOALS CONC. SAVE % FPL POINTS PTS/GM
2014-15 Tom Heaton 38 10 26% 128 53 71% 150 3.95
2016-17 Tom Heaton 35 10 29% 141 48 75% 149 4.26
2017-18 Nick Pope 35 11 31% 114 35 77% 152 4.34

Pope and Heaton gave Dyche two talented keepers to choose from, leaving the future awfully bright for Burnley no matter which way he turned, right?

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MORE INJURY UPHEAVAL AND THE GREAT COMEBACK

Nick Pope suffered a serious shoulder injury late in the 2018 summer. Heaton had recovered from his own long-term injury, but then encountered a new, shorter-term issue with his calf, and Sean Dyche sensed the need for further reinforcement. A classic buy-low opportunity for a fallen star surfaced, and the Clarets’ manager pounced, purchasing Hart for a transfer fee of only €3.9m (peanuts compared to the €80.0m Chelsea shelled out for Kepa Arrizabalaga, the €60.0 Liverpool paid for Alisson Becker, or the €25.0m Arsenal gave up for Bernd Leno). Could Turf Moor revitalize England’s former #1 keeper?

Even so, most of us expected Heaton to return to the #1 spot, leaving Hart as a solid #2 option. Amazingly, Dyche installed Hart as his top choice from the get-go. Clearly he saw something that the rest of us did not, a glint of that old magic that we thought had disappeared. Even so, things did not get off to a good start in 2018-19 for Burnley or for Hart, as the injury-riddled team seemed overwhelmed, struggling in all competitions and crashing out early from Europa League and Carabao Cup. Following a 0-0 draw at Southampton in the EPL , where Hart saved all three shots he faced, it was a disaster with three subsequent losses (v. Watford, at Fulham, v. Manchester United) by a combined score of 9-2. That left Burnley staggering near the bottom of the table with only a single point from the first four games.

Since then, though, the old form has returned, for both Burnley and Hart. Two wins, one draw and one loss have put Burnley back on the right track, climbing to 12th. For Hart’s account in that time, it brought one clean sheet, three goals conceded and 15 saves. The 2-1 win over Cardiff showed Hart in peak form, highlighted by a brilliant, lightning-quick stop getting down to his near post in parrying away a golden goal opportunity from Kenneth Zohore with a strong left hand (that sequence starts at around 0:30 into the clip below). Hart had absolutely no chance on Josh Murphy’s outstanding strike for Cardiff’s only goal (it starts around 2:00).

How do Hart’s statistics so far with Burnley measure up with those of Heaton and Pope in recent campaigns? So glad you asked! Hart’s clean sheet rate of 25% is similar to that of Heaton from 2014-15. His 75% save mark is on par with Heaton and Pope from the past two seasons. And his fantasy point return of 4.75 ppg is better than either of them.

Heaton, Pope & Hart Burnley Stats

SEASON #1 KEEPER GAMES CLEAN SHEETS CS % SAVES GOALS CONC. SAVE % FPL POINTS PTS/GM
SEASON #1 KEEPER GAMES CLEAN SHEETS CS % SAVES GOALS CONC. SAVE % FPL POINTS PTS/GM
2014-15 Tom Heaton 38 10 26% 128 53 71% 150 3.95
2016-17 Tom Heaton 35 10 29% 141 48 75% 149 4.26
2017-18 Nick Pope 35 11 31% 114 35 77% 152 4.34
2018-19 Joe Hart 8 2 25% 36 12 75% 38 4.75

Admittedly, it is a fairly limited sample size of only eight games. But the other EPL keepers have limited sample sizes so far this season, too, and Hart also comes out looking pretty good in that comparison. Currently, the new Burnley man is fifth-best at the position with 38 points, behind only Manchester City’s Ederson (43), Wolverhampton’s Rui Patricio (41), Crystal Palace’s Wayne Hennessey (39) and Liverpool’s Alisson (39).

Clearly, Dyche knows how to spot and develop (or redevelop, in Hart’s case) goalkeeping talent. Perhaps more importantly, he knows how to put a well-organized, defense-first team in front of whomever his #1 is, minimizing the number of high quality chances and making things easier on the keeper while keeping him actively involved.

So should you jump in on Hart, or remain on the sidelines? Well, let’s start with his price. Hart costs only £4.6, which is the same as Patricio and Hennessey, and considerably less than Ederson (£5.7) or Alisson (£5.6). Patricio is a bit of a wild card since Wolves are new to the Premier League this season, but the Portuguese international is a great option as the freshly promoted side looks to be the real deal with plenty of talent under Nuno Espirito Santo. Hennessey, though, has never scored more than 107 points in a season, and he’s had five tries. Tantalizingly, Hart is also less expensive than his Burnley teammates Pope and Heaton (£4.9 each). If you are looking to save money with two very affordable keepers, look no further than Patricio... and Hart.

The Clarets’ schedule is rough the next two games (at Manchester City, v. Chelsea), so if you want to wait a couple weeks, I don’t blame you. After that, things get friendlier (at West Ham, at Leicester, v. Newcastle, at Crystal Palace) before another tough patch (v. Liverpool, v. Brighton, at Tottenham, at Arsenal, v. Everton). But that’s why you have two keepers! You can rotate Hart to the bench when he has a particularly daunting match-up.

Things are not as tempting in the Fantrax standard NMA league. Hart is averaging 7.0 ppg and costs $6.56, which is nice value for the money. However, unfortunately there is no bench to stash him on when he faces the explosive Sky Blues and Blues. As well, you probably either have a better keeper whom you bought at a bargain and you’ve been sticking with as his price has risen (such as Alisson or Patricio), or you’re picking the best super cheap option every week to rotate. If the latter is the case, Hart might be good to grab if his price falls ahead of GW11.

Another concern, of course, is the return of Pope. When Pope eventually comes back from his injury (December is the current hope), will the youngster grab the #1 position back, or can the veteran hold him off and keep the job? Only time will tell.

But until then, believe in Sean Dyche. Believe in Burnley. Believe in Joe Hart. As LL Cool J said, “Don’t Call it a Comeback.” The former Manchester City and England star has been here for years.

[Note: Statistics used in this article came via the official Premier League website and the official FPL fantasy website. Transfer monetary figures are from www.transfermarkt.com]

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Are you getting in on Joe Hart for your fantasy team, believing that Sean Dyche’s Burnley magic dust has rejuvenated the former Manchester City star? Or are the memories of Hart’s high profile blunders in recent years preventing you from making the leap? Let us know in the comments!

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