Stoke to stay in safe hands?

Posted by James Whittaker

Clive Brunskill/Getty ImagesMost Stoke City supporters expect Asmir Begovic to leave for a Champions League club soon.

With January fast approaching, silly season is well and truly underway with the latest Stoke related "scoop" revealing that Manchester City will part with 15 million pounds to secure the services of Asmir Begovic, and throw Joe Hart into the deal on loan for the remainder of the campaign.

While this story isn't worth the paper it's written on, Mark Hughes will be more than aware that time is ticking on the Bosnian's stay in the Potteries, and in all likelihood he will move on to pastures new after the World Cup in the summer.

- Report: Hughes to resist Begovic bid

It's been something of a meteoric rise for Begovic following his arrival from Portsmouth, and despite Tony Pulis' protestations to the contrary, it's a move that only transpired after a failed pursuit of Begovic's 39-year-old colleague David James. While the experienced James would no doubt have been thrust straight into the first team, Begovic had to bide his time as he found himself playing second fiddle to Thomas Sorensen for much of the early part of his career at Stoke.

Since forcing his way into the side though, both club and player haven't looked back with Begovic going on to establish himself as one of the best goalkeepers in the world. That rise to prominence has attracted interest from Manchester to Barcelona, and while it would be a fairytale for him to stay with Stoke, I don't think the club or fans would begrudge him a move to a Champions League team.

That, though, leaves Hughes with some big boots to fill. The two solutions that are on the club's doorstep are to promote one of either Sorensen or Jack Butland to the first team, but both come with their own risks. Sorensen is an experienced campaigner and one who has served the club well, but he's also one who is on the brink of retirement and, if his last couple of cup appearances are anything to go by, it's starting to show.

Butland, on the other hand is a young, exciting prospect, a player with a very level head on his shoulders currently on loan in the Championship while captaining the England U21s. I must admit to not having seen him play for more than a handful of games, but the matches that I did watch saw him make a number of basic errors that I expect would be punished with the quality he'd face in the Premier League.

That said, who is to say that being thrust into the limelight wouldn't see him step up to the plate and surprise everyone; Begovic was far from the finished article when he made his league debut, but got better with every game he played. Of those in-house options, I'm of the opinion that it should be Butland who is given the chance to make the number one jersey his own following the inevitable departure of Begovic; after all, it is players like him who are the future of the club. While the side is in transition this term, come the summer there will be a much more settled team in front of him, one that will help him find his feet and hopefully excel like his predecessor.

Another goalkeeper who has shone during his time in the Premier League is Saturday's opposition keeper Tim Howard, international compatriot of Geoff Cameron, Maurice Edu (yes, he's still at Stoke) and Brek Shea. Howard and Begovic, of course, find themselves in the most exclusive of clubs, scoring for their respective teams, but I expect neither will be expected to repeat that feat at the weekend.

It will be a difficult game at Goodison Park, but relatively speaking for an away ground it is one that has been kind to the Potters since their promotion back to the top flight with the side managing to come away with a draw and a win from their five visits in that period. It will be a race for fitness though for the man who helped secure those four points as Robert Huth struggles with an injury -- the German would be a huge miss should he not make it. Romelu Lukaka is a man on form and the "Berlin Wall" would give Stoke the best chance they have of caging him.

Hughes' other dilemma will be whether or not to stick with Charlie Adam or bring Stephen Ireland back in. It's a tough decision for him to make but one I think that should fall in Ireland's favour. That's not a slight on Adam at all; more that it will be a counter attacking game from Stoke and for me, the movement of Ireland in and around Peter Crouch will be key.

I'm just glad it's someone else who has to make that call.

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