‘BIG BALLS’ JOHN STONES IS THE IDEAL CANDIDATE FOR THE CAPTAINCY
If Pep Guardiola was to reincarnate himself as a modern day player he’d be 22-years-old, speak in a thick Yorkshire accent and possess a massive pair of balls. While Claudio Bravo has received numerous professions of support from his manager this season, there was a genuine enthusiasm sustaining the Catalan’s praise for John Stones following the 1-1 draw with Liverpool. And after a run of games in which Stones has emerged as a daisy among the weeds in our defence, praise is thoroughly deserved.
“John Stones has more personality than all of us here together in this room,” Guardiola boomed.
“More balls than everyone here. I like that. I love him. Under pressure, the people criticise him, so I am delighted to have John. With all his huge amount of mistakes. I love him. I love guys with this personality.”
Stones’ mistakes have not gone unnoticed. They’ve contributed not only to disappointing results against Southampton and Everton in his debut season in Manchester but also to an intensifying chorus demanding that defenders – English in particular – just ‘get rid’. Choosing to ignore the easy and often more dangerous option and successfully bringing the ball out of defence with that gazelle-like style of his, Stones is one of the most alluring talents in the division.
The same goes for Guardiola whose mistakes tend to lead the team down a dark alley way and into the hands of a baseball bat wielding mob. When Guardiola gets it right, City are capable of dismantling teams like Barcelona. It’s possible that Pep sees himself in John.
It’s something that could explain the excellent relationship they share. In the campaign’s earlier games the sight of Stones skipping to the dugout to take tactical orders from his manager was a common one – a peculiar one too given a player unfamiliar with his new surroundings had been chosen to take command ahead of individuals like David Silva who, from his seven years at the club, probably knows what deodorant Sergio Agüero wears. An obvious conclusion to reach would be that Stones naturally embraces a style of football that Guardiola encourages and would therefore be the ideal messenger to spread his tactical suggestions across the field. But it’s clear that Guardiola has identified the same leadership qualities Stones’ former manager Roberto Martínez pointed to in 2014, and perhaps it is the defender’s authoritativeness that Guardiola values the most.
Commenting on the former Everton centre–half, Martínez said: “He is a leader. He is born with that quality. He has real high standards in everything he does and for a young man he has always got the right approach on a daily basis.
In my eyes he is a potential captain and leader, someone very close to Phil Jagielka and Gareth Barry.”
News that current captain Vincent Kompany has been available for selection in recent weeks but overlooked by Guardiola suggests the writing is on the wall for the injury-prone Belgian. Kompany, a player that has the utmost respect from the players and the fans, has shown the importance of being a captain both on the field and off it. At points this season City have sorely missed his clout. In games against Chelsea and Monaco where a crunching tackle or a calming tap on the shoulder could have been the difference between the side seeing out important wins and folding, the side have ended up doing the latter with no central presence to sprinkle calm. Guardiola’s decision to allow the players to choose who captains the team would never have been made if Kompany were a regular fixture and at times this season it has backfired.
This summer Guardiola will be keen to ensure City are no longer so reliant on the Belgian next term and while it’s probable that we’ll never fill Vinny’s shoes, John Stones may be the player best placed to attempt it.
Pep’s peculiar press conference
You may have noticed a rather peculiar buoyancy to Pep Guardiola in his post-match press conference. “I am so proud,” he said. “This is one of the most special days of my life”. Surely such a level of exhilaration in a serial trophy winner could not be achieved merely by collecting a point at home?! Was this just one of the quirkiest football managers on the planet trying to be, as one leading ‘banter’ account put it on Twitter, ‘different’ again?
For one to truly understand the Catalan one must read between the lines. Guardiola’s words can often be read like poetry. Take a moment to dissect and in actual fact, the message is crystal clear. After crashing out of the Champions League to Monaco in a game where City showed very little fight, the side could’ve easily crumbled in the face of Jürgen Klopp’s relentless pressing system. They didn’t; they tried until the last minute to win the game and Pep had every right to be delighted with the response his players gave him.
Before Guardiola has us playing FIFA-like football where the ball seems to float above the turf and weave in between our opponents with no obstruction whatsoever, he must first install a winning, fighting mentality into these players. The performance on Sunday showed that he’s doing just that.
If you want to read more on Pep’s press conference, Manchester City’s Goal correspondent Sam Lee puts it well in this piece.
I’ve got to say I was surprised by the reaction to Milner’s comments prior to the game last weekend. I speak as a fan who never really had any feeling for him, he was a useful utility player but a guy with very little personality to cling on to. His words ranking Liverpool’s current squad against the one he won the title with at City, ahead of a big Premier League game, neither offended nor surprised me. Milner, born in Leeds and a former Leeds, Newcastle and Aston Villa player, has absolutely no allegiances to the club and I left it there.
If I were in the stadium that day I personally wouldn’t have booed Milner, but that’s not to say I don’t understand why others did. Jibes like that do niggle and there was certainly no real malice behind the treatment the Liverpool LEFT-BACK (not centre midfielder, ahm) received on his return to the Etihad.
But, but, but – to compare the treatment Milner received for about 10 out of 90 minutes to the enduring, vitriolic abuse Raheem Sterling has suffered from at stadiums around the country for the last year is utterly preposterous. I won’t give the journalist or the publication he writes for the attention they crave in this article, but to put it briefly the piece was a sly and uneducated dig at City fans that Howard Hockin addresses superbly in this piece on our site.
Unfortunately, articles like this that purposefully misjudge situations for the sake of clicks will never surprise me.
— City Watch (@City_Watch) March 20, 2017
HERO OF THE WEEK
No Englishman was more deserving of a call up to the national team than Jermaine Defoe when Gareth Southgate announced his squad on Friday. The Sunderland striker has netted 14 Premier League goals for the bottom-of-the-table side this season and the documentation of his relationship with young Bradley Lowery has shown what a genuinely nice bloke he is. Good luck, Jermaine!
TWITTER ACCOUNT OF THE WEEK
Caving delusion with a side order of Emptyhad tweets, proclaimations of FA bias against the club they have served so well for the last 20 years and a YouTube host who has most definitely never been to Manchester in his life? Follow this great account – if you aren’t already blocked that is.
THERE’S NOTHING UNNATURAL ABOUT KEVIN DE BRUYNE’S DIP IN FORM
With just one assist in his last 10 games, it’s fair to say Kevin De Bruyne is out of form.
There have been an unusual amount of misplaced passes in recent weeks and skewed shots in recent weeks – uncharacteristic of a man with the ability to find his teammates from range with the precision of a missile. More notably Kev has looked completely shattered in the latter stages of games where his imagination can be particularly useful in unlocking tired defences. His influence is fading, we’ve all noticed it.
None of this is unnatural, though, and none of it points to anything more serious. De Bruyne has made more league appearances than any other City player this term (27), his body enduring a blow of almost 3,000 minutes in all competitions. The Belgian has already played 90 more Premier League minutes than he did all last season. For a manager who stands by the benefits of rotation, very little of it has been done in midfield.
Of course, De Bruyne’s unrivaled ability to turn nothing into something means he should be one of the first names on the team sheet but İlkay Gündoğan’s injury plus a worrying lack of squad depth has meant that there is no other option. A 75% fit De Bruyne plays or the quality of the starting XI is reduced significantly.
In Gündoğan’s absence De Bruyne has dropped deeper into the midfield where his vision has been put to good use, but it is also a much more physically demanding role than he is used to. The 25-year-old has done his fair share of defensive work this season, making three more interceptions (21) than he did in his first season at the club.
His assist for Agüero’s goal on Sunday was evidence of just how important De Bruyne is to our attacking play, but the lack of squad depth is beginning to take its toll on his fitness levels. For once, I’m actually welcoming the international break.