The City destruction crew rolled into Rotterdam last night and made the Dutch champions look like rank amateurs. From the opening minute to the last, City dominated the game and exerted a level of control that was often missing in many performances last season. At the heart of this performance was John Stones. Aside from his impressive contribution of two goals, Stones was at the heart of City’s play and acted as a stable for the team to build through as they looked to demolish their opponents.
Who has been City's best performer tonight?
— City Watch (@City_Watch) September 13, 2017
Playing as the right sided centre-back alongside Otamendi, Stones was the one tasked with advancing the ball to the second and third lines of play. Whilst I’m sure Pep would love Otamendi to be able to do the same, over the course of the last two games it is clear that Stones has taken on this responsibility for himself.
As the graphic above shows, Stones was on the ball often and a large amount of his passes moved the ball forward rather than backwards or sideways. This bravery and skill on the ball was vital to City on the occasions that Feyenoord looked to press high up the pitch. His ability to reliably find Fernandinho and Walker whilst under pressure allowed City to break the press easily and advance up the pitch at speed.
Moreover, he also demonstrated his ability to reliably make the first passes in rehearsed patterns of play. The main example of this is a movement involving Agüero and either David Silva or De Bruyne. On several occasions last night Agüero dropped deep into the midfield and drew attention from his defender but also a nearby midfielder. It was up to Stones to fire a quick low pass towards his feet so he could make a lay off pass to either Silva or De Bruyne, depending on whether their markers had left them free. From that point the midfielders can either dribble forward or release a wide attacker cutting in to the space that Agüero vacated.
Whilst Stones’ part in this move may seem small and insignificant, he should be given praise for his ability to execute the action. Not only must the pass be accurate, it must also be delivered with enough pace to allow Agüero to receive the ball in stride instead of being stationary and having to deal with extra pressure from the defender behind him. Most importantly though, Stones must time the pass correctly. Too early and Agüero won’t attract the necessary attention from nearby midfielders. Too late and the risk of an interception increases as Agüero’s marker calls that he is free and moving in to the midfield.
Stones did all of the above with a 98% completion rate. He’s a special talent, one that should be nurtured, not chastised.
As good as John Stones is with the ball, the narrative surrounding him is that “he can’t defend”. Whilst I have often said that this is just plain wrong, Stones had yet to deliver any performances to truly convince the non believers. Now though, he’s delivered two in one week.
Much like the Liverpool game, Stones had the opposition attack in his pocket. He made one successful tackle and interception throughout the whole game and whilst this doesn’t sound impressive we must consider how often Feyenoord actually attacked. City dominated the game and often pinned the Dutch side so far back that their only option was to clear the ball and hope for a reprieve. When they did attack however, Stones was on hand to ensure that the clean sheet stayed intact, evidenced by the fact he made four blocks, with two of them coming inside the City penalty box.
If Stones continues to deliver defensive performances such as this, then surely it is only a matter of time before the rest of country begins to see what many City fans already see in him. The young defender is an incredible talent and under the guidance of Pep, expect to see performances like this occur a lot more frequently this season.