John Stones' return to form is a key to Manchester City's fortunes this season

Mitchell Wilks
Jan 5, 2021, 1:00 PM GMT
John Stones; great fringe, even better on-pitch peformances
John Stones; great fringe, even better on-pitch peformances | Marc Atkins/Getty Images

In a bid to fix their defensive woes that had plagued them to no return in the 2019/20 season, Manchester City have managed to move on and sculpt one of the best defences in the league this term.

No, Aymeric Laporte hasn't multiplied himself into two, nor has he carried the new signings. Actually, it's John Stones who has emerged from the cold and found form once again, forming an incredible partnership with summer signing Ruben Dias and becoming key to Pep Guardiola's plans once again.

While it might feel a little frustrating - and wildly confusing - for City fans to see Stones in the XI ahead of Laporte in 2021, it's also not a negative. Not only is it testament to Guardiola's side for effectively working on their weaker areas and showing pragmatism to shore up the defence successfully, but having Stones back to his best means the Blues are now truly spoilt for choice at the back and have made serious forward strides once more.

Spoilt for choice is something you'd hope they were considering the money City manage to spend on defenders every summer, and left back still remains an issue, but it's forward steps nevertheless.

Stones rising from the ashes like a prime Undertaker can only be a positive. And while it was easy to use him as a scapegoat in a disappointing 2019/20 campaign - where admittedly he was off the pace - the blame wasn't entirely to fall on him.

Truthfully, the defensive signings made ahead of the 2020/21 season came a year too late; Aymeric Laporte was hit with injuries last season and there was still no real replacement for Vincent Kompany. Stones, who was struggling for form and fitness, saw his confidence shot to bits and made just 16 appearances in total throughout the 2019/20 campaign, with Guardiola often opting for square pegs in round holes instead.

Considering the £50m fee he had arrived for in 2016 and the performances he had put in leading up to a disappointing season without Kompany's presence, Stones' drop off in form from a stellar 2018/19 campaign seemed much worse than perhaps it actually was.

Stones looked done at the top level in 2019/20
Stones looked done at the top level in 2019/20 | Chloe Knott - Danehouse/Getty Images

This season, though, the 26-year-old has been able to build it all back up behind the scenes. With City now able to rotate between Stones, Laporte, Dias and Nathan Ake, there are plenty of options and combinations at the back. Having started the first game of the season, Stones then missed out on the following seven Premier League matches and was limited to Champions League appearances, before slowly being bedded back into the league XI by the end of November.

This staggered approach has paid off and allowed Stones to rebuild that confidence while keeping City's defensive options fresh. As a result, he's yet to feature in a losing side in the league so far this season and has contributed to five clean sheets, as well as another four in the Champions League.

Guardiola's patient approach with the 39 times-capped England international must be credited. It would've been the easy way out to sanction his sale and accept that the project had failed with his progressive passing Yorkshireman, but he saw past that and opted to keep him in the ranks. Doing so has paid dividends, and now the Citizens have one of the strongest and most balanced rosters of central defenders in Europe.

Stones and Dias looks like City's best defensive duo currently
Stones and Dias looks like City's best defensive duo currently | Pool/Getty Images

Stones has quickly formed an astute partnership with Dias, which has left Laporte benched. The pair went 623 minutes without conceding before Chelsea scored a late consolation during City's 3-1 victory, and compliment each other seamlessly. Dias is the natural leader which allows Stones to play his progressive game and worry less about stamping down authority, but the two both hold an eye for a vertical pass - much to the delight of their manager.

Some might say that Stones' resurgence is entirely down to Dias, others will credit it to Pep. Truthfully, they've both played a part, but it's the Englishman who's had to go out and prove himself and he's done exactly that.

Stones provides competition for places in the heart of City's defence, which is exactly what they need as they climb back up the Premier League table in search of another title.