The tremendous development in the level of Manchester City this season does not depend only
On Haaland, but also on the innovations of the defense line, Manchester City coach Josep Guardiola banged his head on the platform of the press conference, and said: “Before you talk about Haaland, please talk first about John Stones.” It was in September of last year, at the height of intense admiration and constant talk about the giant Norwegian striker and what he was achieving, and Manchester City had just won against Borussia Dortmund in the Champions League with the goal of signing his new striker. But Guardiola was keen to change the conversation and divert it to another place.
When we look at those statements now, we realize that Guardiola wasn’t joking at all, but rather he was trying to draw our attention to the big role Stones is playing with the team. The Spanish coach has been, as always, urging observers to look beyond the superficial and pay attention to the minute details that make the difference. A season that may well be remembered as the greatest in Manchester City’s history depended not only on Haaland’s goals or Kevin De Bruyne’s deadly assists, but also subtle changes and innovations in defence. The current season can also be described as “John Stones season”, given that the England international defender is presenting his best levels ever.
It is very important that we focus here on some small details at this stage in order to know the reasons for the great transformation that occurred at the level of Manchester City. At a time when Liverpool was heading to win the English Premier League title in the 2019-2020 season, which was suspended for some time due to the repercussions of the outbreak of the Corona virus, Stones found himself lost, as Robin Diaz and Emeric Laporte were the main players in the Manchester City defense line, and then he comes after them. In the ranking are the Dutchman Nathan Ake and the Spaniard Eric Garcia. Stones also lost his place in the England squad. Stones was then living a turbulent personal life after separating from his partner, and thus, which made one of the most promising defenders in English football on the way to collapse.
But Guardiola never lost faith in him. Perhaps there was always a special relationship between these two men who arrived at Manchester City in the summer of 2016. As with Guardiola himself, the Stones moved to Manchester City despite the interest of a large number of other clubs to obtain their services, but there were also those who questioned In their abilities, many began to ask the following questions: Will they be able to adapt to English football? And can they do what it takes to win England’s biggest trophies? And so, in a way, Guardiola’s story with Manchester City became the same as John Stones’ story: a journey of learning, growing and improving, removing all potential obstacles – one by one – on the way to reaching the top.
They call the Stones ‘Beckenbauer Barnsley’, and the seeds of Stones’ current role with Manchester City – a mix of defense and midfield – began at Barnsley under Ronnie Branson and Mark Burton.
The managers of Barnsley’s youth academy were heavily influenced by the Barcelona team of the late 2000s and, contrary to many internal skepticism, were trying to rebuild their paths according to the principles of Barcelona, for whom Guardiola also played and coached, often playing with a game plan Don’t rely on an outright attacker. Mason Holgate, another outstanding defender, was promoted from the club’s youth academy around the same time, but it was Stones who was the star of that generation, a superb defender with magic, vision and abilities that would make playmakers not defenders.
Stones later said: “A lot of the managers I’ve played with have said to me that they think it’s best for me to play in midfield, but I wasn’t sure I could do that.
Football is very fluid now, it depends on how well you understand your duties and responsibilities and know where your team mates are on the pitch, and I really enjoy that fluidity.
Competing teams depend on having a large number of players behind the ball, and therefore we have to be creative in the last third of the field so that we can penetrate the opponents’ defences.
Stones’ current role with Manchester City is due to Guardiola’s familiar obsession with finding new ways to outpace rivals, this time thinking about how defenders can play more possession-based roles without making that team vulnerable to quick counter-attacks. He often does this by moving the full-backs into midfield when his team has possession of the ball: Philipp Lahm, Joao Cancelo, Oleksandr Zinchenko and others have all played this role under Guardiola in the past.
But this also creates a potential pressure point: forcing the full-back to run a lot on the field in order to be well positioned and run at the right time. After Cancelo (on loan) and Zinchenko left Manchester City, Guardiola tried a different idea. What if the extra fulcrum next to Rodri was not a full-back, but a centre-back?
When Stones moved to play in midfield, he impressed everyone with his high speed and great efficiency in moving the ball. Some may think that the role that Stones plays in midfield is not important and that he does nothing but touch the ball once or twice, but the truth is that the value of these simple passes is very influential for the team as a whole. The main objective of this is to increase the pressure on the opponent, and to force the opponent out of his defensive areas, which creates space in the back.
And when Manchester City lose the ball, Stones can simply drop back into the four-man backline, with three defenders already behind him to stop any counter-attack. Since the Stones began playing in midfield in early March, the average number of goals Manchester City has conceded has reached a goal every 171 minutes. Before that, the team scored a goal every 103 minutes. Thus, Haaland, despite all his wonderful goals, was not the most important element in changing the Manchester City season in this way, but this most important element was John Stones. And with Trent Alexander-Arnold also moving into Liverpool’s midfield, Gareth Southgate has an interesting array of options if he wants to make changes to England’s midfield.
Stones succeeded in leading Manchester City to its second title this season, after defeating Manchester United with two goals to one goal in the final match of the FA Cup at Wembley Stadium, and is now seeking to lead his team to obtain the historic treble. Guardiola has always been one step ahead of competitors, through his new innovations that surprise his rivals, and the latest of these innovations is the role played by Stones, who was very decisive in the amazing development that occurred at the level of Manchester City this season!
* Guardian service