John Stones and Pep Guardiola were meant to be a perfect match.
A Gerard-Pique-esque transformation felt inevitable when Guardiola arrived at the Etihad Stadium last summer, but frustration followed. Stones was unable to show he could erase the errors from his game, and Guardiola could not find a way to make his defence function.
This season was – and is – going to be definitive for Stones’ standing in the game. He has been wearing the ‘promising’ tag far too long; it is time to deliver, and become a reliable member of a title contending team.
The heart of City’s defensive reinvigoration
Amidst the attacking brilliance of Manchester City this season, it is so very easy to gloss over their defensive reinvigoration. Stones has been the heart of that.
The greatest question asked of City this term was how the backline would hold together in the absence of Vincent Kompany. Stones has led the answering of that question, he has been almost faultless, while retaining the superb distribution that made him stand out to City, Chelsea and others as a thin, naïve centre-back at Everton.
Under Guardiola, Stones can become the best defender in the world.
His potential was clear even when mistakes riddled his game, but now we are seeing just how good he can be. The former Barnsley man is still only 23-years-old, meaning he could be the heart of the City and England defences for the next decade.
He is just going to keep getting better and better
While we are only beginning to get to know the 2017/18 campaign at this point, Stones’ gigantic leaps forward in the past 12 months show no sign of being swept away.
As Guardiola tinkers with shape and experiments at full-back, the ex-Toffee has been a calming influence. His judgement has improved immeasurably, and – given the injuries that limit Kompany’s availability – Stones is arguably City’s most important player.
Having been under scrutiny since his transfer, Stones can only benefit from being quietly forgotten about. City’s attack will dazzle throughout this season, but, if they are to win the league, it will be down to the England international as much as anyone else.
The journey to integral figure for club and country is in it’s infancy, but it could be as good as complete in 6 months time.
Written by Sam Cox
Follow Sam on Twitter @SamRCox_
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