Mark Hughes has defended Joe Hart as Stoke look set to welcome a Manchester City side missing the goalkeeper.
England stopper Hart has been surprisingly marginalised at Hughes’ old club since Pep Guardiola took over at the Etihad Stadium, with the Catalan preferring his deputy Willy Caballero.
Guardiola has attributed his decision to Caballero’s familiarity with his system, which puts an emphasis on a goalkeeper passing out from the back, and there is a suggestion that Hart’s omission is due to his perceived limitations with the ball at his feet.
However, Hughes, for whom Hart was a regular starter during his only full season at City, insists he never saw anything wrong with that aspect of the 29-year-old’s game.
Speaking on the importance of a goalkeeper’s distribution, Hughes said: “It’s an important factor but you have to keep the ball out of the net as well. That’s quite important when you’re talking about the goalkeeper position.
“It’s an aspect of modern football now. Ideally you would like a goalkeeper who’s comfortable with the ball at their feet because they instigate attacking moves right from the beginning.
“We’re fortunate in regard to ourselves that we’ve got one in terms of Jack (Butland), who’s exceptionally good in that respect, and Shay (Given) is very good. We’re well served in that respect.
“Just from having worked with Joe myself, I never thought that distribution was one of his weaknesses but it’s all about opinions.”
The outspoken Joey Barton had called the treatment of Hart from his old team “disgusting” earlier this week, though Hughes refrained from opining further on the matter.
“I don’t really want to debate other people’s situations at their club,” he said.
“It’s a situation that maybe has been ongoing not just for the last couple of weeks with the new season starting. It seems to me, looking from the outside, that the decision was made a long time ago.
“They’ve known for quite some time that Pep Guardiola is coming to the club so I’m sure they’ve had discussions on all aspects of their team moving forward.”
While Guardiola may be in the market for a goalkeeper that fits his ideology, Hughes is keen to find further reinforcements at the other end of the pitch.
There has been little movement in his pursuit of West Brom striker Saido Berahino, and the Stoke boss admits he may have to move on to other targets soon if no further progress is made.
“I think that would be our stance,” Hughes added.
“We’re looking to improve the group. In saying that, we want the right quality. There’s not many at the level we think can improve the strikers we’ve got. We’re not aware of a raft of options.
“It’s a small pool of players that we’re dealing with and we’re shopping in a different market. The players that may be available, a lot of other teams at our level and above our level are interested.”
Shay Given, formerly of City, will start again in the lunchtime kick-off on Saturday because Hart’s England back-up Jack Butland is still possibly a week away from returning due to an ankle problem.
Hughes also confirmed that Xherdan Shaqiri, who was instrumental in the Potters’ 2-0 home victory over City last term, is doubtful with a calf injury picked up in pre-season.