Jack Rodwell

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Pep Guardiola’s latest success story: John Stones

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Every story has a beginning, middle, and end.

The beginning of this story features a bumbling fool of a defender, and an expensive one at that. The beginning of this story also features a bumbling fool of a soccer writer. That would be me.

*record scratch* You’re probably wondering how I got here. Let me explain.

The first tweet above refers to a goal Jermaine Defoe scores for Sunderland (remember them?) on the opening day of the 2016/17 season. Manchester City won the game 2-1, but it wasn’t Stones’ best moment since arriving at Manchester City just four days prior. Jack Rodwell receives the ball about 23 yards from goal, and Stones steps to close him down, leaving acres of space behind him. Bacary Sagna (remember him?) does poorly to stay with his man Defoe, but the Sunderland poacher immediately occupies the space vacated by Stones and scores on the through-ball which the England defender fails to prevent.

Mistakes like this were all too common for Stones, who cost a heaping $64 million from Everton. He was still just 21 years old at the time, and looked completely lost. He was billed as a defender who could play with the ball at his feet and thus would fit perfectly into Pep Guardiola‘s system. Man City’s own club release announcing the signing referred to him as “one of the world’s most promising centre backs” and specifically mentioned “Stones has built a reputation as a ball-playing, 21st century defender, equally adept at neutralizing opposition attacks as launching the first key pass out of the defensive third.”

None of that was evident at the start. I jumped to conclusions.


Every story has a beginning, a middle, and an end. The middle features just two words: Pep Guardiola.

Pep Guardiola has morphed John Stones into one of the world’s best central defenders at just 24 years old. (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)

Every story has a beginning, a middle, and an end. The end of this story is not yet written, but there is an outline for sure. John Stones, the bumbling 21-year-old who made countless positional mistakes and looked hopelessly lost in Pep Guardiola’s system, is now one of the world’s best central defenders. No, that’s not a hyperbole. He’s a strong Team of the Season candidate and one of the first names on the teamsheet of one of the Premier League’s best-ever constructed squads. Adding to the resume, he was a critical member of England’s World Cup squad that made the semifinals.

Case in point, his performance against Liverpool, which was fabulous. First, the obvious: Stones completed 94/99 passes, was a perfect 9-of-9 clearing the ball, won both his aerial duels, was not dispossessed once, and helped keep Roberto Firmino to a generally minimal threat, with the Brazilian’s goal only coming while he was marked by Vincent Kompany.

To dig a little deeper, here’s just one more fine-tuned reason why Pep loves Stones. This astute find from Statsbomb writer Nico Morales shows how his vision has not just improved, but taken a leap of faith.

Nico is exactly right. Stones connected with left-back Aymeric Laporte seven times in the game, all switches of play from Stones at RCB to Laporte on the left flank. That pass is vital to Manchester City as they look to break Liverpool’s press. That pass is meant to be taken away by the high positioning of the striker (in this case, as Morales points out, Salah), but Stones managed to find it anyways. In addition, Stones found Leroy Sane on the left flank three times, an even more difficult alleyway to navigate.

In addition, Stones no longer makes the positional mistakes we became so numb to his freshman year at the Etihad. Last year during their dominant title run, Manchester City conceded a league-low 27 goals through the 38 matches, and while Stones struggled that campaign with injuries, he put in nine full-90 minute performances in Premier League play, six of which finished in clean sheets.

Stones’ most notable play of the Liverpool match was a perfect encapsulation of his career path at Manchester City. After being admittedly beaten by Sadio Mane, he put enough pressure on the Liverpool winger to (together with a charging Ederson) force him into hitting the post. Stones then attempted to clear the ball by clattering it straight into Ederson’s body, looping the ball towards his own net. He then rushed back to clear the ball off the line, literally millimeters (11 of them, to be exact) from the game’s first goal.

He’s not the sexiest player on the field. In the win over Liverpool, Bernardo Silva got plenty of (deserved) plaudits for running his absolute socks off (he ran the furthest distance of any player in any Premier League match this season). Sergio Aguero scored a ridiculous(ly important) goal. Leroy Sane’s winner came from a moment of far-post ingenuity. Even Vincent Kompany was lauded for his hard work, his clearing ability, and his physical tenacity that nearly netted him a sending off. Stones, on the other hand, plods along doing the little things that help the Man City Machine continue to churn. It’s not even dirty work – which often earns recognition in its own right (see: Silva, Bernardo) – it’s just plain old work.

While many consider Raheem Sterling‘s development as Pep Guardiola’s most impressive individual coaching job at Manchester City – and there’s a good argument to be made there – it is of this writer’s belief that Guardiola’s crowning achievement thus far at City is the building of The Stones Wall. From 21-year-old project (a “poor buy” as one nameless dope put it) to 24-year-old superstar, John Stones has truly developed into one of the world’s best central defenders, and there’s still room to grow.

And for that, I owe him an apology.

Sunderland, Rodwell cancel contract as player pursues MLS

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Well, here’s an MLS measuring stick for you.

Sunderland and Jack Rodwell have agreed to cancel the player’s contract ahead of a move to Major League Soccer, where 27-year-old ex-England national teamer will test his mettle on North American soil.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

Rodwell has played for Everton, Man City, and Sunderland, though he appeared just twice for the Black Cats in the 2017-18 Championship season (which saw Sunderland relegated to League One).

The MLS transfer window opens July 10, but Rodwell will now be a free agent.

Who would benefit from a player like Rodwell, should he be fit and functional? Might he interest NYCFC, a sister club of his former pals Man City, or perhaps might he made a move to join Wayne Rooney (presumably) at DC United?

How he performs, should he sign somewhere in MLS, would be the latest litmus test for the league and its standing relative to the top few divisions in England.

Adama Diomande has four goals in four matches since coming to LAFC from Hull City, but Jordon Mutch hasn’t done much of anything in Vancouver. Adam Henley’s adjustment to Real Salt Lake has been slow, but Sporting KC’s Johnny Russell is one of WhoScored’s highest rated players on one of the league’s best teams.

Colorado has a pair of Championship transfers, with Jack Price faring better than Joe Mason though the club isn’t doing well at all.

Transfer rumor roundup: Chelsea after Richarlison, Carroll

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Monday’s transfer rumor roundup begins with wobbling Chelsea, who has already added Ross Barkley this January.

[ PL PLAYBACK: Man City blueprint, Alexis, VAR, relegation ]

The Blues apparently prefer to take Andy Carroll off of West Ham’s hands, viewing the Irons’ tall striker as the ideal backup for Alvaro Morata and an upgrade or competition for Michy Batshuayi.

Goal.com also says the Blues are readying a move for Watford discovery Richarlison in the summer, with the Hornets unwilling to part with the electric Brazilian this month.

Meanwhile, Manchester United’s edge over Man City in the chase for Alexis Sanchez may come down to salary, as the Arsenal star could nab as much as $25 million a year in wages from the Red Devils (really, it’s peanuts after taxes).

United also wants to pry Cagliari youngster Nicolo Barella from Serie A, though Liverpool is also after the $61 million 20-year-old with two goals this season.

Finally, Jack Rodwell is set to become a free agent, as Sunderland is willing to cancel his contract in order to let the ex-Man City and Everton man skip town. Does David Moyes want him at West Ham for a third stint together?

League Cup wrap: Sane saves Man City; Big boys roll (video)

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There were neither upsets nor much drama to be found as five European contenders joined the League Cup on Wednesday.

[ MORE: Pulisic scores 10th BVB goal ]

Man City needed to overcome a surprising late equalizer from Premier League hosts West Brom, and Arsenal’s finishing wasn’t up to par in the lone close score line of the day.

Blowouts dotted the landscape as second-choice and fuller-strength giants powered past lesser competition to reach the fourth round.


Everton 3-0 Sunderland

USMNT winger Lynden Gooch got a start for the Black Cats, who also had ex-Everton players James Vaughn, Jack Rodwell, and Darron Gibson on the pitch.

The familiarity didn’t stop Dominic Calvert-Lewin from giving the Toffees a first half lead, and buttressing the advantage with a second half marker. Oumar Niasse rounded out the scoring for Everton.

Chelsea 5-1 Nottingham Forest

Kenedy, Michy Batshuayi, and Charly Musonda scored first half goals. Batshuayi completed a brace after fine work from Eden Hazard in the second, then completed his hat trick late. Ex-Burnley man Tendayi Darikwa spoiled Chelsea’s clean sheet in second half stoppage.

For Musonda, it was this goal on his full senior debut.

Arsenal 1-0 Doncaster Rovers

Alexis Sanchez opened up the defense and found Theo Walcott to make it 1-0. That was all the Gunners needed to top Darren Ferguson’s League One side.

West Bromwich Albion 1-2 Manchester City

Leroy Sane put home an Ilkay Gundogan rebound in just the third minute, and avoided blushes for City after a late concession with an even later winner. Hal Robson-Kanu missed a point-blank shot deep into stoppage as City survived the Baggies’ fight back.

Here’s Claudio Yacob‘s surprising equalizer.

Manchester United 4-1 Burton Albion

The below statistic was accurate before Marcus Rashford added his second of the first half. Jesse Lingard and Anthony Martial also scored for United, while Lloyd Dier ruined the Red Devils clean sheet minutes from full time.

 

League Cup Weds. preview: Top teams mind the underdogs

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The giant killers aim their arrows at Premier League foes on Wednesday in the final five matches of the League Cup’s third round.

[ MORE: League Cup Tues. wrap ]


Arsenal vs. Doncaster Rovers

March 29, 1902 — Doncaster beat Arsenal 1-0. In the century-plus since, Arsenal has won five and drawn once with Doncaster.

Pretty safe to say the in-form Gunners’ and their back-ups will run through the Rovers, though as the old cliche goes, “That’s why they play the games.”

Chelsea vs. Nottingham Forest

For a long time, this was a Premier League fixture each season. Now Chelsea welcomes the Championship’s Forest for the third time since 1999.

Everton vs. Sunderland

The Toffees could badly use a nice win after its Europa League beatdown in Italy and a series of tough results against Premier League giants.

Enter Bryan Oviedo, Darron Gibson, Aiden McGeady, Jack Rodwell, and James Vaughn in a Sunderland squad with plenty of experience playing at Goodison Park (The Black Cats have two further players, Tyias Browning and Brendan Galloway, on loan from Everton). USMNT youngster Lynden Gooch could get a starting run versus PL opposition.

Manchester United vs. Burton Albion

The visitors surprised United by forcing an FA Cup replay in 2006, and the Red Devils repaid them with a 5-0 lashing. Burton was in the Conference then, and have risen dramatically in the last few seasons and surprised by surviving a Championship campaign in 2016-17. This one won’t be close, but it’ll be better than 5-0 for Nigel Clough’s Brewers.

West Bromwich Albion vs. Manchester City

Tony Pulis has been able to stymy a lot of teams, but Man City isn’t one of them. West Brom boasts 11-straight wins over the Baggies, the last of which have been by multiple goals. West Brom’s last draw vs. City was Boxing Day 2011. Its last win? Sept. 22, 2010 in the League Cup. Can the Hawthorns be the venue for a surprise?