Stones Shines for City

With Manchester City tightening up results and confirming themselves as title contenders in previous weeks, a lot of their good fortune can be attributed to the re-emergence of England’s John Stones. Joe Bell looks at how Stones has recaptured his early-career form and become a first choice option for Pep Guardiola.

John Stones has been an immense presence since Pep Guardiola gave the England international an extended run in the first team, conceding just two goals across 11 starts in all competitions so far.

In recent weeks, Manchester City have seen their form pick up immensely, with their 3-1 victory over Chelsea at Stamford Bridge seeing Pep Guardiola’s side play arguably their best football of the season. At points this season, the team looked lethargic, shaky and devoid of any ideas. However, Pep Guardiola has reshaped his team into a much more formidable force, as has been the norm with City since the Spaniard’s arrival in Manchester. Interestingly though, the praise for City’s turnaround does not lie with the breadth of attacking talent, but with a backline that has been strengthened by a blossoming centre back partnership between John Stones and Ruben Dias. While Ruben Dias has been fantastic since arriving from Benfica in the summer, the bulk of the praise and attention has gone to Stones, with the England international finally hitting the heights he was expected to when he left Everton.

Since arriving at the Etihad in August 2016, Stones has had a very hit-or-miss career with City. The highs have been very high, with Stones winning two Premier League titles, one FA Cup, three League Cups and two Community Shields during his stint in Manchester. However, the lows have also been very low, with the City hierarchy having considered sending the centre back out on loan during a particularly underwhelming spell. This is a far cry from the player who was labelled as the “next Rio Ferdinand” during his time at Barnsley and Everton but the comparisons, coupled with a massive £47 million transfer fee, left Stones with pressure on his shoulders – pressure that clearly hampered his performances.

However, with City enduring a stuttering start to the 2020/21 season, Guardiola has opted to give opportunities to previously bit-part players, with the likes of Stones and Riyad Mahrez seeing extended runs in the first team as an opportunity to impress their manager. With 11 starts under Stones’ belt this season, he has very rarely put a foot wrong. Stones hasn’t lost a game he’s started this season, winning 10 of his 11 starts, while also seeing out a 0-0 draw against Manchester United. What’s even more impressive is the fact that out of the 11 games that Stones has started this season, City have only conceded two goals, keeping nine clean sheets. The icing on the cake for Stones’ season so far was his first goal in 1,162 days, as he opened the scoring in City’s 2-0 victory in their Carabao Cup semi-final against Manchester United.

Stones celebrates his first goal in over 1,000 days as Manchester City take the lead against Manchester United in the semi-final of the Carabao Cup.

At 26 years old, Stones has played his fair share of football already, having made his professional debut in the Championship for Barnsley, aged just 17. His impressive contributions at Barnsley earned him a move to Everton in 2013, developing further in the three years he spend on Merseyside, earning himself an England call-up in May 2014. Stones became known across the country as his move to City saw him become the second-most expensive defender in world football at the time, with fans and the media expecting big things. Having been named as City’s Player of the Month for December, things are looking up massively – with the ball-playing capabilities to be able to thrive in a Pep Guardiola team, Stones could end up playing his best football in 2021, as he enters the prime of his career.

With the ongoing risk involved with playing top-level football in the COVID-19 pandemic, it has become impossible to predict what could happen come the end of the season. That being said, given the form that Stones finds himself in, Manchester City could do much worse than keeping him in the starting 11 as they chase yet another Premier League title.

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