Once earmarked as a future England captain, John Stones’ dip in form had the centre-back on the verge of leaving Manchester City in the search for regular football elsewhere. Revived, confident and back to his best, Stones has turned his fortunes around and is displaying the potential shown during his Everton days.
Return of John Stones Key to Manchester City Success
Forming a Bond in the City Defence
City were uncharacteristically languishing around the lower half of the table when Stones was reintroduced to the side, but with seven clean sheets in nine Premier League appearances this season, the hype around John Stones is entirely justified.
Every strong central defender has a partner and for Stones, he’s found comfort next to Ruben Dias. Stones and the Portuguese international have managed to form a close bond, silencing doubts about the credentials of City’s defence.
Originally Dias was tipped to double up with Aymeric Laporte, with Stones acting as an alternative to Dias, not a partner. Reports had linked Stones with a move to North London, reuniting with ex-City assistant manager Mikel Arteta at Arsenal. They were quickly slashed and the two-time Premier League winner began his fifth season in East Manchester.
Sitting in second with a game in hand and a title challenge in full swing, it’s hard to remember the problems City faced in the early stages of the 2020/21 season. A pre-season cut short due to European commitments, early defeats to Leicester City and Tottenham Hotspur had the Manchester club prematurely written off and the pressure was mounting on Pep Guardiola. City had dropped more points after 12 matches than they had in the entirety of their 2017/18 Premier League title-winning campaign.
Scrambling for a solution and struggling for goals, Guardiola was forced to shift from his trademark gung-ho high pressing system, favouring a more resilient approach. Step forward Dias and Stones. Since the two first partnered each other in a 5-0 victory against Burnley in November, City have conceded just twice in the league – a goal every 405 minutes of football. The pair’s form has built the foundations for City’s eight game-winning run across all competitions. Imperious.
John Stones’ Ability Catches the Eye Once More
When he’s at his best, John Stones makes football look easy. His natural ability to create angles to receive the ball, travelling with ease up the pitch and consistently starting attacks from deep has been crucial to City. Stones has attempted 804 passes this season, with a majestic 94% completion rate. A Rolls-Royce defender.
But it isn’t just his ability on the ball which makes him so important to Manchester City’s recent success. The assured presence and natural leadership he brings to the City backline has helped plug the hole that hasn’t stopped leaking since Vincent Kompany departed in 2019. Every interception, clearance and tackle Stones makes, his stature grows and his confidence increases- he has morphed into a player that can now be relied on.
In-Form Stones Scoring Goals
An unlikely goalscoring streak has coincided with the re-emergence of John Stones as one of the division’s best defenders. The 26-year old netted twice in City’s recent 4-0 win against Crystal Palace. Stones had played well over 6,000 minutes for the Manchester club before scoring his first Premier League goal in the win and would only have to wait half an hour more to get his second. At the midway point of the 2020/21 season Stones has already equalled his best ever goal tally for City, demonstrating his ability to contribute across all departments.
Stones’ redemption story in the Manchester City side is a tale that has seen a relationship rebuilt with Guardiola. After retaining Eric Garcia, the double purchase of Ruben Dias and Nathan Ake and Guardiola’s preference to play Fernandinho ahead of him in defence, Stones was well down the pecking order. Whether his hand was forced or not, Guardiola is undeniably pleased to see Stones regain his form.
Speaking after City’s victory against Palace, Guardiola waxed lyrical about the defender, insisting: “if there is one guy that deserves the best it is John Stones.
“Confidence is everything. He won his confidence for himself. As managers we can’t give confidence.”
Retaining the faith of the Catalan after a difficult period in his career has given Stones another opportunity to display his talents and develop his football.
John Stones Searching for a Euros Spot
Stood before the travelling supporters in the Luzhniki Stadium, hands aloft applauding, the future looked promising for Stones in an England shirt. Having played a starring role in the Three Lions’ best World Cup campaign since 1990, Stones represented an integral part of Gareth Southgate’s plans. Just over 12 months later, Stones had been dropped.
Making his international debut whilst at Everton, Stones came on as a substitute against Peru in 2014. Two tournament appearances, three managers and 39 caps later, his time in the England set up looked over.
Stones, out of sorts at City, was without a call-up since November 2019. Yet, with the spring internationals looming and a European Championships over the horizon, Stones’ form has once again caught the eye of Southgate.
The versatility Stones can offer will only strengthen his chances. Especially as Southgate continues to persist with the three-at-the-back formation that guided England to a third-place finish at the 2018 World Cup. England, who are amongst the favourites to win Euro 2021, will benefit from the balance provided by Stones and, if the defender is producing the same quality of performance he currently is, a return to the Three Lions defence seems imminent.
Maintaining Consistency Crucial for John Stones
An inability to maintain form and consistency has been the biggest criticism attributed to John Stones since he first broke into the Everton side back in 2013. He takes risks and sometimes they work, sometimes they fail – Stones is a player who has always looked like one bad-pass away from capitulation.
It really does feel like a career-defining few months for Stones. Resurrecting his City career has provided the defender with a needed and a well taken second chance, building the platform for potential silverware and putting him back in contention for an England callup. John Stones cannot afford to slip-up again at City.
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