Speaking ahead of City’s UEFA Champions League clash at Shakhtar Donetsk on Wednesday, City’s manager confirmed the injury happened in training.
With Aymeric Laporte out until January at the earliest, Man City have a real problem at center back with Nicolas Otamendi their only experienced central defender left.
The Argentine defender has struggled early this season and was awful in their shock defeat at Norwich on Saturday.
Midfielder Fernandinho will likely slot in at center back in the coming weeks, and that was likely going to the case anyway with Stones and Otamendi playing so poorly together. After losing Vincent Kompany this summer and then failing to sign Harry Maguire, not adding a new center back was a massive oversight by City.
That sound you can hear is Liverpool’s fans celebrating, as Jurgen Klopp’s side already have a five point lead atop the Premier League table.
Here’s what we have on the docket for a busy weekend in England.
The reigning champs begin life without Laporte
Norwich City v. Man City, Saturday, 12:30 p.m. ET on NBC
Aymeric Laporte may not get the headlines of Virgil Van Dijk, but the Man City man has been a close second to the Liverpool star when it comes to how important a role he plays to his defense. Fortunately, Man City has reliable Nicolas Otamendi and a healthy John Stones. How they perform together will go a long way to determining whether a 3-peat is an option once Laporte returns after the new year. The first Laporte-less test comes against Teemu Pukki and defense-starved Norwich City
Spurs aching for stability, return to form
Tottenham Hotspur v. Crystal Palace, Saturday, 10 a.m. ET on NBCSN
Both Tottenham and their visitors had a key attacker in the rumor mill throughout August, and both Christian Eriksen and WilfriedZaha stayed put at the transfer deadline. Spurs have just five points through four games, but have already played two Top Four rivals (draws with Man City and Arsenal). It’s fair to say nothing short of a home win over Palace will be acceptable to the Lilywhite faithful. Can Spurs “re-focus?”
New (old) boss bump against dangerous Gunners?
Watford v. Arsenal, Sunday, 11:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN
Watford fired Javi Gracia in favor of a return to Quique Sanchez Flores, and the Hornets’ home faithful will see whether it gives the moribund Hornets a return to 2018-19 form. Watford has just one point from the first four matches of the season, while Arsenal has only lost to Liverpool. Goal fest?
Someone’s stalling has to end here
Wolves v. Chelsea, Saturday, 10 a.m. ET on NBC Sports Gold
Europa League congestion can rightfully be blamed for some of Wolves’ struggles to start the season, but no such prognosis can be made ahead of a visit from less-than-inspiring Chelsea. This is a good litmus test for two teams’ high-end hopes, and a loss for the hosts could see them finish the weekend in the drop zone.
Business as usual for Salah, Mane versus Newcastle
Liverpool v. Newcastle United, Saturday, 7:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN
Forget the argument last week: Sadio Mane, Mohamed Salah, and their fellow Reds will be licking their lips to face a Newcastle team which hasn’t won at Anfield since a League Cup match in 1995. The goal scorer? Steve Watson.
Manchester United v. Leicester City, Saturday, 10 a.m. ET on NBC Sports Gold
The hosts Red Devils are running out of excuses for their in-game dominance not producing three points, and the latest test at Old Trafford comes via an in-form Leicester City. Will Foxes manager Brendan Rodgers deliver his first big result of the season?
Ajax CEO Edwin van der Sar has spoken after the Dutch club’s shocking late defeat to Tottenham in the Champions League semifinals, and said he believes the end is near for 19-year-old captain Matthijs de Ligt at his boyhood club.
According to the Ajax chief executive, de Ligt is most likely to move to a big club in Spain or England. Speaking to Sky Sports Italia as quoted by Goal.com, van der Sar said, “I think these will be De Ligt’s final games with Ajax, but I hope he goes out on a high. He’s been here since he was a child and will end up at a big club. I think he’ll go to England or Spain.”
De Ligt has set all kinds of marks at his young age, adding to his value this summer. He is the youngest ever in Ajax history to reach 100 appearances for the club, a crowning achievement given Ajax’s history as a developer of young talent. He is the club’s youngest-ever captain, and the first defender ever to win the Golden Boy award for Europe’s best player under 21 years old.
The 19-year-old has been linked to the likes of Barcelona, Manchester United, Manchester City, Liverpool, and Juventus over the past month or two, and his future remains wide open. The team that seems to make the most sense would be Barcelona, where his current Ajax teammate Frenkie de Jong is already confirmed to be headed at the end of the season. The Barcelona back line is in serious flux, with 32-year-old Gerard Pique seemingly starting to decline, while Samuel Umtiti struggled with injuries and Clement Lenglet failed to consistently perform.
Manchester City is always a player for top talent with the money it possesses, and they could look to de Ligt to replace an aging Vincent Kompany, but he may not want to compete with fellow youngsters in John Stones and Aymeric Laporte for playing time. Manchester United could absolutely use a defender of de Ligt’s youth and caliber, but their lack of Champions League play could put them at a disadvantage. Liverpool would love to have an international teammate to partner with fellow Dutchman Virgil Van Dijk, especially with injuries decimating the back line this season which left Joel Matip as a consistent starter.
The one team shattered by this statement would be Juventus, who would be considered a major player with Giorgio Chiellini now at 34 years old and Leonardo Bonucci at 32. Also not helping Juve is de Ligt’s agent Mino Raiola being given a three-month transfer ban in Italy, which would cover this summer’s window. Raiola said he is appealing.
Van der Sar also said the club will do its best to keep head coach Erik ten Hag, with the former Bayern reserve boss now a wanted man after the Champions League run. “We intend to keep hold of Ten Hag, that is our intention,” van der Sar said. “We know there will be a lot of changes within the squad, but we’d at least like to confirm the coaching staff.”
Much of this will have to wait until the season concludes, as Ajax continues to battle for the Eredivisie title as well as the KNVB Beker trophy to wipe away the tears of the Champions League collapse.
*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.
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.
The line from Stones to Laporte is pretty telling. Salah did somewhat of a bad job shutting off the pass behind him and Stones is at least part god. https://t.co/zeXz6novwR
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.