football

Is John Stones A Risk Worth Taking?

January 25, 2017

- Grant Whittington

Manchester City’s defensive fragilities were once again exposed in Sundays crushing 4-0 defeat at Goodison Park – the third time they have conceded four goals in a game this campaign.  The result intensifies the pressure on under-fire boss Pep Guardiola who in turn suffered his heaviest league defeat as a manager.

The Spaniard’s fixation with possession-based football and desire for perfection over pragmatism has so far fallen short in their disappointing Premier League campaign to date.  After storming to the top of the division with maximum points from their opening six matches, there has been a severe breakdown at the Etihad which sees them two points adrift of the final Champions League spot and their Premier League title odds diminishing rapidly.

The catalyst for this malfunction has been a calamity of defensive errors which has led to an insecure backline tainted by poor judgement and a lack of understanding. The former Barcelona and Bayern Munich manager may point at his inability to assimilate a proficient system for his players to flourish in, but it does not mask the reality that he failed to adequately reinforce their rearguard despite spending more than £150 million on new signings in the summer.

Last season, City scored 71 times (the highest in the top-flight), but shipped 41 goals – more than other side in the top four. Therein lies the problem and yet Guardiola’s sole defensive acquisition in the summer was the £47.5 million he paid to acquire the services of John Stones, making him the most expensive English defender of all-time.

Touted as a future England captain, the 22-year-old has been unable to justify his hefty price tag and appears burdened by the extreme physical and psychological levels demanded from his coach. Yet there is much to admire the way he plays the game – his composure on the ball and willingness to play out from the back is what enticed Guardiola to bring the youngster to Manchester.

Stones has the potential to become City’s long-term answer, but his raw talent and insistence on taking risks close to his own goal will continue to derail the blue half of Manchester’s title hopes. His feeble backpass in last month’s loss to Leicester epitomised his unwanted knack of making mistakes on a regular basis.

It is easy to point the blame at Stones for City’s defensive flaws, but it is as a whole that City have been shambolic defensively. In an industry that demands instant success, Guardiola cannot keep relying on Stones to provide him with a quick fix solution.

Dropping Stones seems unthinkable given the extortionate amount of money shelled out, but a couple of games on the sidelines could benefit the defender who has struggled to deal with the added scrutiny and pressure he has come under at City this season.

A reliable and experienced centre-back playing alongside Stones would be immeasurable for his development and help facilitate his progress, which since his big-money switch has been somewhat diluted. This is where the return of inspirational captain Vincent Kompany could prove to be pivotal.

Through regular game time alongside the likes of Kompany, his decision-making will begin to improve and he will transform from the defender who can play football into a footballer that is able to defend. The Premier League is an unforgiving arena – maybe it is time for Stones and the rest of his team-mates to learn how to win ugly?

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