Micah Richards has hailed Manchester City goalkeeper Joe Hart as one of the top three in the world, saying he believes the England international is back to his best after his early-season errors.
Hart produced several fine saves on his return to the City side after a month out in Wednesday’s 4-2 Champions League win over Viktoria Plzen.
His performance, along with a series of stops in England’s 1-0 defeat to Germany eight days earlier, convinced right-back Richards that the 26-year-old had returned to peak form.
The defender feels Hart has been subjected to more scrutiny than his rivals for a place in the international side, such as Norwich's John Ruddy and Celtic's Fraser Forster, because he plays for a higher-profile club and is Roy Hodgson's regular goalkeeper.
"In my opinion, he is back to his best," he said. "Obviously, as a player you go through difficult times -- but the best always rise to the top and he is top three in the world and definitely the best in England, that’s for sure.
"I am his biggest fan. He went away on international duty and played a very good game there. [Against Plzen] I thought he was very good again. So his confidence is building back."
Hart was at fault for goals that Cardiff's Fraizer Campbell, Aston Villa’s Andreas Weimann, Bayern Munich's Franck Ribery and Chelsea’s Fernando Torres scored against City before manager Manuel Pellegrini took the decision to drop him.
"Everyone goes through a difficult spell in their career," Richards said. "But I think Joe is mature enough and bright enough to get over this sort of hurdle.
"Every keeper makes mistakes. When you are England's No. 1, it is a lot harder than normal. The people who he is up against, Ruddy and Forster, are top keepers, but when you are playing for Manchester City and are England’s No. 1, it is added, extra pressure. He can’t make the mistakes they can make and get away with them."
Costel Pantilimon was chosen for five consecutive games before the Romanian was rested against Plzen, but Hart is expected to be back on the bench when City host Swansea on Sunday.
"Pantilimon has come in and done really well," Richards added.