Manchester City 2-1 West Ham: John Stones comes full circle and deserves every bit of credit he gets
John Stones looked to be heading for the exit after remaining on the Manchester City bench at the start of this season. But rather than try force a move, he dug in, and with his winner against West Ham in City's 2-1 win on Saturday, he completed a remarkable turnaround in his fortunes. Coming full circle, he deserves all the credit that is coming his way, writes Pete Hall
John Stones of Manchester City celebrates scoring the second goal during the Premier League match between Manchester City and West Ham United at Etihad Stadium on February 27, 2021 in Manchester, United Kingdom
The journey to this point will have felt like being pulled down a cobbled street on a horse and cart for John Stones, but having scored the winner as Manchester City made it 20 wins in a row against West Ham, all the hardship Stones has gone through will have been worth it to come full circle at the Eithad.
Stones' composed finish to see off a determined West Ham took him to five goals for the season this campaign, as many as he had managed in the four previous season at the club combined.
But his goal return only tells part of the story. Just three months ago, the 26-year-old was drifting into obscurity, with a City exit the obvious choice in order to secure more first-team football. Now, however, having worked hard to depose one of the best defenders in the Premier League in Aymeric Laporte, Stones is as integral a part of this relentless City machine as anyone, and coming from where he has, his efforts to get to this point deserve the utmost acclaim.
Ruben Dias has rightly won plenty of plaudits for his commanding showings this season, taking to the Premier League like a duck to water to finally fill that gaping void left by Vincent Kompany at the Etihad.
But every general needs a lieutenant by his side. Laporte seemed to be the perfect candidate - almost identical in athletic build to Dias while possessing a similar propensity to play the ball out from the back that Pep Guarduola requires from his centre-backs.
So it proved at the start of the season, but something wasn't quite right. Instead, Guardiola, who has always been a big fan of Stones, put his faith in the outcast, and the rest is history.
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The stats are simply remarkable. Dias, who scored City's first at the Etihad on Saturday, and Stones have now scored five goals and only conceded three in the 16 games they have started together this season.
The Stones effect is quite something. In his 23 appearances for City this season, his side have won 22 and drawn one. In that run, 22 games, a Stones inspired backline have been breached just five times.
He was supposed to have been the one that Guardiola, in his never-ending quest for football to be played in the right way, got badly wrong. Stones was signed for his ball-playing capabilities in 2016, but several high-profile defensive errors meant he was seen by many as an expensive extravagance, one not capable of being part of a championship-winning team.
After four years in and out of the team, Stones could have been forgiven for looking elsewhere. Or, at worst, being happy to sit on the bench and accept his pay packet at City. Instead, he has worked hard to cut out those errors, looks in as good a shape as he ever has, and fought to be become a key figure again at the club. Now, he talks the talk, too.
"We go about our business in our own way and keep fighting," Stones said after the West Ham win. "We are playing the football we were a few seasons ago. We have fighters in the dressing room. It has been an incredible few months. We are in every competition to try and win them."
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His head has never dropped. All his toys remained in the pram. Guardiola always had faith in Stones, now the Yorkshire-born defender is believing in himself. The Euros surely has to be on the horizon for Stones, and after all that he has had to overcome, and the personnel he has had to usurp, nobody would deserve to represent their country more this summer.