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First team

Begovic excited for 'huge test' at former club Stoke

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AFC Bournemouth AFC Bournemouth

Asmir Begovic returns to former club Stoke City on Saturday evening looking to start 2021 on a positive note with the Cherries as a key part of a solid defensive base that’s laying the foundations for success.

The Bosnian ‘keeper made 172 appearances over five-and-a-half years with the Potters, making his name as a Premier League performer after sealing a multi-million pound move from first club Portsmouth in February 2010.

High points came for Begovic with City in helping the side to further establish themselves in the Premier League, reaching an FA Cup final and pushing into Europe.

He now returns for a second trip back with the Cherries, the side looking to bounce back from the year-ending defeat at Brentford and reaffirm their promotion push against a Stoke side sitting in seventh and enjoying a successful season themselves under Michael O’Neill.

Stoke will be without an important component of a trip to the bet365 Stadium however, the area’s tier four status setting the stage for the match in a behind closed doors environment – Begovic beginning his chat with afcb.co.uk by discussing the absence of home fans on Saturday.

"When I look back at those years and some amazing nights and days that we had with the crowd I think of an incredibly passionate fanbase who live and breathe their club,” he said.

"Those fans play a huge role in that stadium and for the team and not having them there is going to be a tricky one for them, their twelfth man. But as we've seen, every game is difficult and this one will be no different.

"You keep an eye out (for your old clubs) and there's always a bit of you that looks a little bit ahead to see what's coming up.

"The present is the most important though, so our full focus has been on the games that we've had recently and our next opponent.

"In the last couple of days we've now got acquainted with Stoke to make sure we're ready and put in a good performance because we know they're very difficult to beat and break down, so we know we're in for a huge test."

The two goals conceded at Brentford on Wednesday were the first efforts squeezed past Begovic since the loss to Preston on 1st December, the stopper keeping his sheet clean for 8 hours and 29 minutes and nearly a month, which he explains was a big part of the focus for the side at the start of the season.

"Overall this year we've wanted to be a lot more solid, difficult to beat and to have a solid base to build from, and I think we've done that,” he said.

"Our record shows that we're on the right track overall this year. We've been very solid but we have to keep that going and if we have that foundation I think the players that we have going forwards will take care of the rest.”

Begovic was just 22 when he first arrived in Staffordshire, quickly being offered the number one jersey for the top flight team, proving himself at the level and paving the way for a title-winning move to Chelsea in 2015.

The ‘keeper spoke about the pressure to step up: "It was a big move for myself at that point in my career with the fact that someone was willing to pay that fee for me and give me a chance to put myself in the Premier League even more.

"I relished it, I looked forward to the challenge and it's worked out well since then.

"I was breaking in at Portsmouth and got a taste of it there, wanting to kick on and play even more. Then I went to Stoke and it wasn't easy, there was tough competition, thinking about Thomas Sorensen and Steve Simonsen.

"You try and believe in yourself, take that competition on as a challenge to try to better yourself and I think that really did that for me.

"Once I got my chance and was put in the first team by Tony Pulis there was really no looking back.

"It was an overall fantastic five-and-a-half years there, and it really allowed me to take the next step and go to a club like Chelsea.

"At Stoke we established ourselves as a top ten Premier League club, played in the Europa League which was incredible and went to the FA Cup final which was another incredible experience.

"We also had the memorable individual results, beating Liverpool a couple of times, beating Manchester United and Chelsea, we had some pretty big nights at the Britannia - now the bet365 - Stadium. It was overall a really good experience being there.”

The return to his former club is the first for Begovic since the Cherries claimed a 2-1 away win in October 2017, the 33-year-old now concentrating on a similar success in front of the Sky Sports cameras on Saturday.

"I haven't been back in two or three years, the last time was with Bournemouth, the last year Stoke were in the Premier League,” he said.

"I've been back with Bournemouth and Chelsea and it's always a nice experience in that you get to see some old faces and people I spent a lot of years with and built good relationships with.

"It's also a lovely area with good people around there, but at the same time, when you go there you have a job to do and that's our big focus.”

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