As Liverpool's season continues to crash down all around them, attention is naturally already turning to next season, and more pertinently, the summer transfer window. Having been knocked out of the FA Cup, fallen short of reaching the English Football League Cup final and slipped 13 points behind Premier League leaders Chelsea after a winless start to 2017 in the top flight, the chances of Jurgen Klopp claiming silverware in his first full campaign at Anfield have been firmly extinguished.
The 2-0 defeat to relegation threatened Hull City once again highlighted the key weakness in the Reds rear-guard; the goalkeeping position. Simon Mignolet and Loris Karius have been rotated for much of the season; with the lack of faith Klopp has in either 'keeper having been clear for all to see at regular intervals this season. At the KCOM Stadium, it was the turn of Mignolet to falter, as the Belgian failed to clear a corner under pressure from Abel Hernandez, allowing Alfred N'Diaye to slot into an empty net.
Such failures have continued to intensify the speculation that Klopp could add a second new goalkeeper to his squad in the space of 12 months. Dutchman Karius arrived last summer to compete with Adam Bogdan and Mignolet but amid a season-ending knee injury for the ex-Bolton Wanderers stopper neither have convinced in the Liverpool goal.
Joe Hart's name continues to be linked with a move to Merseyside. In December, The Sun understood Klopp would have to spend £20m to bring in the England international from the Etihad Stadium on a permanent basis. Hart is resigned to leaving Pep Guardiola's side at the end of the campaign, having been unceremoniously discarded upon the Spaniard's arrival last summer.
The 29-year-old, who endured a torrid European Championships with a string of errors as England crashed out in the second round, has been operating in the shadows this season on loan at Serie A side Torino. The mid-table Italian club have limited annual goals, with a top-half finish the extent of Sinisa Mihajlovic's ambitions.
But how has Hart been performing at Torino, and more importantly is he capable of bringing calm to a position at Liverpool which has been uncertain since Pepe Reina, who went to Napoli on loan in 2013 prior to his permanent departure, was removed from the role?
The dynamic of playing for a club whose expectations rarely extend beyond finishing in the top-half means Hart is regularly called upon in the Torino goal. Only seven stoppers have faced more shots on goal in the 2016-17 season in Serie A, a list which includes each of the clubs who occupy the bottom three.
Of that group, Hart has the second-worst save percentage at just 69% [69 saves from 100 shots], while of the custodians who have played at least 20 games in the Italian top flight five have a worse record, including Reina of Napoli and Ciprian Tatarusanu of Fiorentina.
Five times this season Hart has kept a clean sheet in the Italian league, with nearly half of those players who are outperforming him playing for sides who are below Torino in the table. Only five defences have shipped more goals this term than Torino – though this may not be a reflection of his own ability.
Perhaps a better assessment of the attributes he possesses come within his performances in the Premier League. On four occasions the ex-Shrewsbury Town and Birmingham City 'keeper won the golden glove award and no player has won more in England's top division. Only Petr Cech, who has also scooped the prize on four occasions, is the only current active goalkeeper with more Premier League clean sheets than Hart, on 185.
Perhaps the statistic which reflects that Hart — offloaded for the most versatile Claudio Bravo who was regarded as better with his feet — has improved this season lies in his distribution which will certainly catch the eye if not of Guardiola, then certainly Klopp. Hart's distribution accuracy stood at 59% during the previous two campaigns, perhaps leading to his exit, but that number has leapt to 69% this term.
So Hart might not be playing for a club that provides him with the best numbers, but it is unlikely to perturb Liverpool this summer. The England international has improved on the perceived major flaw in his game, a deficiency which threatened to end his association with the Premier league. Now is the time for his return.