John Stones is really the most important man in the Manchester Derby
Football pundits covering the Manchester Derby will write volumes of work around the managerial battle between Jose Mourinho and Pep Guardiola. The truth is, more attention should be paid to the match’s players. City defender John Stones holds the key to the Premier League encounter.
Talk of managerial conflict and offensive firepower will dominate headlines in advance of today’s clash. The ironic truth is that each club will need standout performances from their back lines to keep their side in the match.
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That reality places a ton of pressure on John Stones. The former Everton defender seems to have found a new lease on life under Guardiola. The talented manager seems to be getting through to Stones in a way that previous managers simply couldn’t. The English international now seems to have a growing understanding of when to play the ball, and when to “put the ball into row Z.”
That’s all well and good against teams that lack the offensive firepower to really challenge City, but Mourinho’s attack is an entirely new proposition. This fixture will require much more of Stones than the previous three matches.
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Defensively, Stones is one of the only City defenders capable of matching up with United’s towering size. He isn’t as tall as the likes of Ibrahimovic or Pogba, but he can at least compete with them in the air. Stones is going to need to be a commanding presence in the air when United launches set pieces into the box.
It isn’t just on the defensive end of the pitch where Stones’ contributions will be vital though. His ability to distribute the ball from the back is also crucial to how Guardiola wants his side to play. The best way for City to counter United’s advantage in the air, is to keep the ball on the ground.
That effort has to start with Stones’ ability to pass the ball forward. If he can shrug off United’s pressure to give his midfielders the ball in dangerous areas, United will struggle to defend the City attack. If he casually gives away possession as he did during his Everton days, United will have a field day playing on the counter attack.
Today’s match is a stern test for a lot of players, but it’s most important for John Stones. The play of the young English defender will go a long way towards deciding a winner in the Manchester Derby.