Hughes dismisses Begovic rumours
Stoke boss Mark Hughes has dismissed the latest reports linking Asmir Begovic with a move away from the Britannia Stadium.
There has been fresh talk this week of Real Madrid being interested in the goalkeeper, with it even being suggested in Spain that talks had opened between the club, Begovic's representatives and his current employers.
But, at his press conference to preview Saturday's Barclays Premier League home clash with Southampton, Hughes said: "There will be a lot of stories bandied about, but I would take that one with a pinch of salt to be perfectly honest. I don't think that is true."
Begovic is out of contract in 2016 and Hughes has repeatedly emphasised his optimism the 27-year-old Bosnia international will sign a new deal with Stoke this summer.
"We are scheduled to have talks with Asmir's people in the next few weeks I think," the manager said on Friday.
"I think both parties have stated that probably at the end of the season those talks will come to a conclusion, and we are very hopeful Asmir will stay here.
"There will be speculation around better players at football clubs, and we are no different. He has attracted attention because he is an outstanding goalkeeper."
In terms of other potential items of summer business, Hughes is also hopeful Stoke will wrap up the signing of teenage winger Moha El Ouriachi from Barcelona.
It was reported earlier this week that the 19-year-old Moroccan-born player was bound for the Potters this summer after deciding joining them was a better option than accepting the new contract offer made to him by Barca.
And Hughes said on Friday: "There is a hope that we will be able to conclude that deal."
Stoke will be without defender Marc Muniesa and winger Victor Moses.
Muniesa misses out due to a slight hamstring strain, while on-loan Moses has returned to parent club Chelsea because of a hamstring problem of his own that is expected to keep him sidelined for the rest of the season.
Defenders Marc Wilson and Erik Pieters are both nursing knocks to the wrist but Hughes is hopeful the pair will be available for the visit of the Saints.
Ronald Koeman believes Southampton will have to win their six remaining games to stand any chance of reaching the Champions League.
This has been a remarkable season at St Mary's, with the club already having levelled the record Premier League points tally of 56 set last year.
That record will no doubt be broken in the coming weeks and things could get better still, with Manchester City's sudden drop-off opening up the potential for a top-four finish.
Saints have five points to claw back on the reigning champions but Koeman believes it is possible if they win all their remaining games.
"Normally yes," the Dutchman said. "The distance is five points. We need to win I think all.
"They (City) don't lose three games, no. They have the next two at home. Normally, with the players that they have, the qualities.
"You never know, but it's all about to win the last six to have really a good chance to be one of the top four teams."
Saints travel to the Etihad Stadium on the final day of the season and, by contrast to the other sides chasing a top-four berth, have a kind set of fixtures before that.
Tottenham and Aston Villa come to St Mary's, while trips to Sunderland, Leicester and City follow Saturday's match at Stoke.
"Yeah, but in the last part of the season, okay, what's the best to play against?" Koeman asked. "A team who's fighting for no relegation or two teams who are fighting for the title? I don't know.
"Every game is difficult. You have to be on your level to win a game. All are difficult.
"We play Sunderland away, we play Leicester away and they're fighting for not going down and that's even difficult."
Koeman is certainly not taking the run-in lightly and the trip to the Britannia Stadium will be an interesting test for Southampton's players at this stage.
"It is a difficult one," the Dutchman said. "We have that experience this season two times we play Stoke, one time at home and one time away for the League Cup.
"Both games we won but in both it was difficult because we know the qualities of them."