Stoke City manager Mark Hughes has expressed surprise at Joe Hart being benched ahead of Manchester City’s visit to the Bet365 Stadium on Saturday.
Pep Guardiola selected Willy Caballero ahead of Hart for his first two matches in charge – last weekend’s 2-1 win over Sunderland and Tuesday’s 5-0 thrashing of Steaua Bucharest in the first leg of a Champions League play-off – amid reports the former Barcelona and Bayern Munich boss is unhappy with the England goalkeeper’s capacity to build play from the back and operate as a “sweeper-keeper”.
During his time as Manchester City manager, Hughes signed Shay Given in January 2009 to similarly demote Hart and sent him on loan to Birmingham City the following season.
Nevertheless, the Welshman does not believe footballing ability is a factor holding Hart back.
“Having worked with Joe myself, I never thought that distribution was one of his weaknesses, ” said Hughes, who expects to select the veteran Given in his Stoke line-up as the match comes too soon for Hart’s England colleague Jack Butland.
“Jack Butland won’t play, it’s a bit too soon for him,” he explained, after the 23-year-old suffered a setback in his rehabilitation from a broken ankle.
“Last week was a shock and we were all a bit concerned but it’s settled down really well. There was possibly a chance he could feature, but it was never in my mind to rush him back.”
Xherdan Shaqiri scored a free-kick equaliser in last weekend’s 1-1 draw at Middlesbrough but the former Bayern attacker is a doubt to play this weekend due to a calf injury, while right-back Glen Johnson (thigh) will miss out.
Stoke turned in a dazzling performance as they beat Saturday’s opponents 2-0 in last season’s corresponding fixture, while Hughes was happy to recall a win over Guardiola’s Barcelona in the 2009 Joan Gamper Trophy – four months before he was sacked in Manchester.
“We can’t think about Manchester City,” he said. “We need to think about ourselves and be at the best we can be.
“There is a feel-good factor with the arrival of Pep as manager, he’s been successful everywhere he’s been.
“I’ve only had one of my teams go up against him, it was a pre-season friendly which we won, so hopefully that can carry on.
“It’s going to be a tough game, but we have a decent home record against them. We need to be at our best.”