John Stones's role in Manchester City's future plans getting blurred as he returns against Newcastle
Englishman has endured a stop-start season and Pep Guardiola has a new preferred centre-back partnership
John Stones will make a comeback on Wednesday but the question may well be if he is going.
Pep Guardiola could have a new preferred centre-back partnership, and without the Englishman who excelled in the first-half of each of his two title-winning campaigns. The Manchester City manager is reluctant to discuss summer transfers, either incoming or outgoing, but he will have end-of-season talks with Stones.
While City could move for a new centre-back, they already have one of sorts. The 19-year-old Eric Garcia took advantage of Stones’ absence, when the World Cup semi-finalist missed the first three of City’s June games, and while the Englishman has since been an unused substitute, Guardiola likes what he has seen from the teenager.
Stones’ chance will come against Newcastle on Wednesday as both managers will make changes. “He is going to play,” pledged Guardiola. It will be just Stones’ 13th league appearance of a stop-start, injury-interrupted season.
“The quality of John is there: never doubt it for one second,” Guardiola said. “It’s just when you don’t play, you are rotated and injured again. What we want for his future and ours is for him to come back and to be able to play two, three or four months with no injuries.”
Stones has done that as an automatic choice in the past and, in 2018, Guardiola said that Stones would be at City for as long as he was. Now the manager implied the defender may wish to move on in search of first-team football.
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“I am more than delighted with John Stones, as a person and a professional and I want the best for him,” he said. “At the end of the season we will speak about what will happen. Sometimes my wish is not the wish of the player.”
There has been a shift in his thinking and the pecking order. Fernandinho and Nicolas Otamendi have actually made the most appearances at centre-back for City this season but the Brazilian returned to his old role in midfield in Sunday’s defeat at Southampton.
A month ago, Garcia had only begun two league matches. Now he and Aymeric Laporte have started together against Arsenal, Liverpool and Southampton, games in which City conceded a solitary goal. Guardiola likes what he has seen in the partnership.
“Eric and Aymer did incredibly good,” he said. “I wanted to give them more minutes.
"They communicate quite good. With the ball they are so safe, especially Aymer to be the unique left footed central defender, but Eric has played difficult games, against Arsenal – they are so fast with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Eddie Nketiah – and after with Liverpool with Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino and Mohamed Salah.
"They handled it really well, so that’s why I gave them two or three games in a row, to see how they develop, they deserved it and played really well.”
That safety has appealed to Guardiola. He believes that City’s inconsistency this season stems in part from defensive errors. “Eric doesn’t make mistakes,” he said. “Defensively that is what we want.”
That reliability could be crucial. City suffered their ninth league defeat of the campaign at St Mary’s. “When you lose eight or nine games you cannot win the Premier League,” Guardiola said. “Maybe years ago but not when the champions get over 90 points.”
City elevated standards, prompting Liverpool to hit the heights. Amid talk of “the new normal”, Guardiola believes the days of champions recording points tallies in the 80s will be consigned to the past. “I think for the level of the teams now it is always over 90 points,” he said. “You have to go far.”
Updated: July 8, 2020 07:12 AM