For a deranged perfectionist like Pep Guardiola, Man City’s defensive woes this season must be quite maddening.
Vincent Kompany’s departure over the summer, Aymeric Laporte’s long-term injury, and the poor performances and various niggles of John Stones and Nicolas Otamendi, have likely given the handsome Catalan some sleepless nights over the last couple of months.
Thankfully, his master plan worked out and the duo impressed in their new position, helping their side keep a clean-sheet at Selhurst Park to edge a little closer to Liverpool at the top of the Premier League table.
But despite their competence at the back, it was perhaps surprising to see them paired up again for the Champions League clash against Atalanta on Tuesday.
Even stranger was the sight of Stones on the bench, seemingly fit enough to be included in the team after recovering from a thigh injury that kept him out of action for the last few weeks.
As fate would have it, Stones was given his chance to come off the bench just before half-time in the clash with the Italian side, with Rodri forced off with a suspected hamstring injury.
With the Spanish midfielder-turned-defender limping off the field, Stones was quickly given the nod by his manager to get to his feet and get on the pitch.
But he wasn’t quick enough, and Pep was visibly furious with how long it took Stones to get his training gear off and finish his warm up.
As he pulled his socks up, Guardiola could even be seen slamming the top of one of the seats in the dugout before giving him a stern telling off.
When asked about the incident after the game, Stones said: “I had them on but I had to fix them up properly.
“Time is of the essence and that’s what he wanted.”
But it was perhaps a telling moment in Stones’ City career.
Since his mistake for England over the summer in the Nations League defeat against Holland, Stones’ stock has plummeted and few would consider him up to the standard of a club like City, who harbour ambitions of winning the Champions League.
Aged 25, the centre-back should be nearing his peak, but is still no where near the calibre of Virgil Van Dijk, or even his England teammate Harry Maguire.
The next few weeks could be a crucial period for Stones if he is to rejuvenate his City career.
What’s more, with the impressive performances of Aston Villa’s Tyrone Mings coupled with the potential of young defenders Joe Gomez and Fikayo Tomori, Stones could be fearing for his place in England’s Euro 2020 squad next summer.
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