England centre-half John Stones could just resurrect his ailing Manchester City career with displays like he put on during their 5-0 victory over Burnley
- John Stones got a rare start during Manchester City’s 5-0 win over Burnley
- Many felt the England centre-half does not have long left at the Etihad Stadium
- He has lost his place in the team behind Aymeric Laporte and Ruben Dias
- More performances like this and he still might have a future at City yet
The futures of John Stones and Eric Garcia were intrinsically linked last summer. Barcelona wanted Garcia — and still do — but the Spaniard remained at Manchester City because Stones was out of form and favour.
Similarly, Stones was never on his way out of the Etihad Stadium as a consequence of the uncertainty over Garcia’s future. Although City ended up buying two new central defenders for around £100million, they did not fancy losing three in the same window given Nicolas Otamendi was bound to leave.
Transfers and managing a squad are a delicate business, even more so during that elongated summer market, and at City, Ruben Dias did not arrive until the season had started.
John Stones’ Manchester City future was looking uncertain but he might still have a future
Stones didn’t put a foot wrong for the team despite missing many games so far this season
But crucially, the reason why Garcia’s move back to the Nou Camp never really got off the ground was Stones.
Doubts over whether he could recapture his best form were deep-rooted and, as such, City were not willing sellers of Garcia until very late in the window.
Barcelona were given more encouragement in September after Pep Guardiola had witnessed a determination in Stones on the squad’s return to training, but they did not come close to matching City’s valuation of Garcia, with the 19-year-old now hopeful of leaving in January instead.
It has meant a change in hierarchy, with Stones leapfrogging Garcia in the defensive order. On Friday, Guardiola said that personal problems plaguing the 26-year-old Stones, thought to involve his family life, had subsided and he is now talking about him in purely footballing terms.
That was 24 hours before a magnificent display against Burnley to back up a strong performance at Olympiacos in midweek. Stones had not started consecutive matches since March and he will hope these represent small steps to recovering his career under Guardiola.
Eric Garcia also featured off the bench and his City career has come under questions too
Stones won all of his aerial duals while marking the imposing Chris Wood and completed 97 per cent of his passes, many of them through the lines into midfield. His first touch was more assertive, the confidence to waltz out from the back returned.
‘He was so concentrated on not making mistakes,’ Guardiola said. ‘What we are looking for from the back four is “don’t make mistakes”.’
It will have pleased those sitting behind the bench, from kit men to coaching staff, whose reinforcement for Stones has occasionally soundtracked City’s matches this season, clearly audible in empty stadiums. Everyone at City seems desperate for him to do well.
Guardiola has been impressed, adding: ‘The guys who help me, who help the team, they have more chance to play. The other ones… they have to wait for this opportunity.’
Guardiola was impressed with Stones who has started just 23 matches since February 2019
So taking the manager on his word, Stones — who has still only started 23 matches since February 2019 — should now own the shirt in the short term.
Fully fit Aymeric Laporte was omitted from Saturday’s squad, and Raheem Sterling was an unused substitute. It appears Guardiola used the weekend to send a message.
‘It’s not about rest here,’ he said. ‘I saw Kevin De Bruyne a little bit exhausted mentally (last week). But right now I use the players who are in better conditions or more focused.
‘If the players think they have been rested because I am rotating, they have made a big mistake. I put in every game the best players, sometimes for the benefit of the team, sometimes because of injuries, but especially the players who play well.
‘It’s not about the players who believe, “I deserve to start because I have been here for three or four years” — they make a big mistake.
‘It doesn’t matter if you have won a lot of titles in the past or you score a lot of goals — you have to show it on the pitch in the recent past, in the present and especially in the future.’