Club Focus – Stoke – Young pretender Begovic set to get his chance

Wednesday evening’s Carling Cup Fourth Round tie against West Ham is likely to afford Asmir Begovic the opportunity to stake a serious claim to Thomas Sorensen’s place, as Pulis looks at some of his fringe players at the Boleyn Ground. The 23-year-old Begovic is clearly a very highly-rated prospect, having attracted the interest of Arsenal, Tottenham, and most notoriously Chelsea during the last 12 months. The 6”6 Bosnian impressed at Portsmouth when he received a run of games in place of the injured David James, but Stoke fans have not yet seen enough of him to be able to gauge just how good a goalkeeper he is since his £3.5m move in January. A few games at the end of last season, and just 90 minutes to date during this campaign, have given little indication as to his strengths and weaknesses.

Sorensen, meanwhile, has been – on the whole- an excellent custodian for the Potteries outfit, making himself an important part of the Stoke team that has firmly established itself as a Premier League club. He has arguably not been the same, however, since dislocating his elbow early during April’s calamitous 7-0 defeat at Chelsea. After enduring a torrid world cup with Denmark, he has twice suffered a recurrence of the problem, and his kicking, decision-making and handling during 2010/11 have all been called into question, with a perceived hesitancy arguably contributing to the ongoing decline of Stoke’s once-watertight defence.

Reports of Sorensen’s demise, however, have been exaggerated. A glance at the Premier League stats for the season so far finds the Scandinavian sitting among the top 10 goalkeepers in the division, above the likes of Howard, Reina and Jaaskelainen. For all the criticism Sorensen has received, his point-blank saves against Aston Villa, West Ham and Newcastle played a major part in ensuring that his team emerged from all three games with points on the board. He also turned in a commanding performance in the win over Blackburn, in difficult circumstances given the tendency of Sam Allardyce’s men to swarm around the opposing goalkeeper at set pieces.

Begovic’s brief stay in the Potteries thus far has hardly run smoothly either, after his alleged “refusal” to play in the Carling Cup tie against Shrewsbury in light of a rumoured bid from Chelsea. The semantics of whether the Bosnian’s admitted declaration that his “head was not right” before the game constituted such a refusal degenerated into some unseemly public mudslinging between player and manager, from which neither party emerged with much credit. Since then, however, Pulis has been quick to praise the youngster for putting the issue behind him, fuelling suggestions that a changing of the guardian is imminent.

If Begovic can emerge as the talent that many have predicted, and Sorensen can recapture the form that saw him inherit the gloves of the great Peter Schmeichel in the Denmark set up, then a new golden age of goalkeeping could be dawning at the Britannia Stadium. Equally however, if Sorensen’s slump deepens, and Begovic’s head is once again turned by interest from more illustrious suitors, then the club could find themselves with a crisis between the sticks. Such are the fine margins between triumph and disaster in the Premier League.

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