BREAKING: Pep Guardiola might have a new best Man City centre back
Man City arguably have three world class centre-backs and John Stones has become an important part of Pep Guardiola’s team.
In a game where Man City were largely shut out from creating quality chances, it was centre-back John Stones who unlocked the persevering Borussia Dortmund defence with a strike from 25 yards out. A momentum shift that saw City pile on the pressure and the seemingly inevitable Erling Haaland netting the winner in a finish maybe only achievable by Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
However, it is not the goalscoring touch that is the most impressive attribute within Stones’ game. Frequently, the expression ‘jack of all trades master of none’ is used when discussing players but Stones is quite the contrary.
An elite ball-playing defender suited to a Guardiola system, he has since been nurtured into a reliable defensive asset while providing passes that are largely press resistant and split opposition midfields. He also possesses the backbone of ‘old school’ defenders when challenging for the ball. This is a component of Stones that is often underlooked as he has demonstrated time and time again for City and England the capacity to do the ‘dirty work’ required.
As well as this, the ‘Barnsley Beckenbauer’ has been setting the standard in modern times when it comes to having a deep understanding of a game. The ability to slot into a four at the back or three at the back formation seamlessly is undervalued and rather those that stumble in doing so are criticised and even ridiculed. In numerous cases it is the 28-year-old’s partner that gathers the majority of plaudits whether it be Harry Maguire during England’s run to the Euro final or Ruben Dias’ player of the year award during City’s title-winning season of 2020/21. While these players deserve such praise, a share must go to the common denominator in these successful teams. Stones.
When Jamie Vardy humiliated the then 22-year-old Stones during a 4-2 demolition, many hastily dismissed not only the capability of the inexperienced latest £50 million acquisition from Everton but also the practicality of Pep Guardiola’s vision in English football. Individual errors and the exposure of the demands in possession from the manager led to Stones gathering a swift reputation from inpatient supporters as another overhyped English prospect. There is often a tendency within football fans of retaining original opinions of a player that has since advanced yet still can’t shake off the criticism.
Despite having a number of world class teammates, Stones has racked up over 200 appearances in a side that has every right to be billed the greatest in Premier League history. Coupled with the fact he has been a mainstay and integral element of the most successful England side in decades. It may take time but upon retirement his career will be reflected upon with immense admiration.
In late 2020, City endured a difficult start to the season with some pundits writing off Guardiola’s side and questioning the consistency of the team. With a partnership of Stones and Dias, City went on a title-winning run of fifteen wins and one draw over the course of sixteen games. A momentous run in which, astonishingly, the pair contributed to as many goals (3) as they conceded over the sixteen games. This momentum shift fuelled by a centre back partnership is golden and very infrequent with only the likes of Ricardo Carvalho and John Terry and also Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand boasting a similar type of streak.
The partnership was recognised by fellow professionals as both were elected to the PFA team of the season. City’s defence was the most crucial piece to winning the Premier League that season as none of City’s forward line broke into the same team of the season yet four out of five made it from the backline.
Taking this momentum into Euro 2020 (played in summer of 2021) Stones started every game in a team that conceded only two goals in seven matches, with one of those being a 30-yard free kick planted into the roof of the net.
The current England side has proved to be a breath of fresh air. While in the past ongoing club rivalries put a sour taste into the camps of hugely talented players, this seemed to be a sharp contrast to the side managed by Gareth Southgate. Despite the Manchester rivalry at club level, Kyle Walker, Stones and Maguire have shown a harmonious relationship that represents three Yorkshiremen playing for their country rather than enemies.
Following on from a physically gruelling schedule of the Euros, Stones had to be patient to regain his place in the side. However, this time it proved to be Stones and Laporte who shared the most balanced and functional partnership amongst the three City options. Conceding just six goals in fourteen Premier League games with Stones in the side compared to 20 goals in 24 games shows why he could be the most important part of the centre of City’s defence. Especially as City crashed out of the Champions League in his absence as they conceded six goals over the two legs to Real Madrid.
There should be no raised eyebrows in claiming that Stones is the superior centre back in City’s rotation. All three will have their advantages and arguments to take that place but Stones has definitely shown in recent years he deserves to be towards the top of the conversation of not only City’s best centre back but also the Premier League’s. City have the fortune of having three centre backs who would arguably start for any other team in the league so picking between them isn’t straightforward. Nevertheless, it is a fortunate problem to solve as far as Guardiola is concerned.