Despite a deficit in the back, the England defender has played only 17 minutes in the past four games and did not make the squad for the Tottenham clash. John Stones should take every chance to prove he’s the long-term response for Manchester City, but his main problem appears to be that he might not have many chances left.
Despite a debatable defence that can’t stop shipping goals, and the precautionary lack of senior centre-back Aymeric Laporte, the England defender was left from the squad for Sunday’s 2-0 Premier League defeat at Tottenham.
“[There is ] no harm, I decided to bring Eric,” City coach Pep Guardiola said. “Eric played good when he played so I bring him.”
Guardiola insisted that the Spanish teenager hasn’t moved ahead of Stones in his thoughts, however, the choice is an alarming hint he could have just given up on expecting that the 25-year-old for big games this year, and possibly in the long run.
The second was especially frustrating for Guardiola. Soon after his side had taken a late lead, Stones and Joao Cancelo failed to stop Wilfried Zaha’s conduct that caused an injury-time equaliser. But the Catalan was revived throughout the match, cajoling and remonstrating as he positioned his defenders to block the danger of the Palace counterattacks. Yet with only four minutes remaining, his defence could not see the job through.
“It was a wrong decision and we’re going to fix it and enhance it,” Guardiola said later at a rare moment of criticism of his players. “In this situation, we can’t allow them to run in this counterattack.”
Stones has played only 17 minutes since.
Laporte was brought in for his first start in Sheffield United three days afterward and City kept their first clean sheet in six matches.
But Guardiola isn’t ready to muddle through next season and a brand new centre-back is a complete transfer priority in the summertime. Whichever way they go, the futures Stones and Otamendi stay in the balance.
Stones has the benefit of being a homegrown player in a group that’s at its limit for thieves.
Otamendi could be tricky to change, with the Argentinian still having two decades on his £120,000-a-week contract left to run. Stones has the identical amount of time remaining on his deal but might be a more viable choice for Premier League competitions with Arsenal and former City trainer Mikel Arteta linked with a move for him in January.
City scouts are already working across Europe to identify choices to fit the mold of a ball-playing, smart and fast centre-back, exactly the characteristics that convinced City to cover Everton £47.5 million ($62m) for Stones in the summer of 2016.
Benfica’s Ruben Dias, Milan Skriniar of Inter and Pau Torres in Villarreal are young defenders that have been connected with a possible summer move to the Etihad Stadium. Bournemouth’s Nathan Ake could be a possible homegrown choice.
Guardiola has been protective of Stones, that has come in for a fair quantity of unfair criticism, especially after a tricky summer when he made mistakes in England’s failure in the Nations League.
But using a porous defence carrying the blame for a disappointing title defence and City keeping only two clean sheets from the matches that Stones has begun, that security may not last forever.