Man City clash with Leicester could make or break outing for John Stones

The solid partnership formed by Ruben Dias and John Stones last season was a wholly unexpected one, yet one that undoubtedly played a crucial role in Manchester City’s successful season.

After a tricky opening few months to the campaign, the duo placed a water-tight seal on City’s backline, helping Pep Guardiola’s side to a third Premier League title in five seasons and a first-ever Champions League final.

Although Aymeric Laporte has been preferred to Stones as Dias‘ partner so far this campaign, muscle fatigue sustained by the Spain international and Nathan Ake’s absence due to personal reasons could present Stones with a chance to reclaim his place in Pep’s starting XI this weekend.

But that won’t be as easy as it sounds.

With Dias a seemingly immovable fixture in Guardiola’s prefered line-up, it’s a straight fight for minutes between Laporte and Stones.

Yes, Stones and Dias is one of the best centre-back pairings City have ever had, but Laporte and Dias are arguably just as good.

Whereas Dias and Stones are both right-footed, playing Laporte allows Guardiola to have a left-footed defender in the left centre-back position – something he has openly confessed he prefers.

As good as City were going forward last season, Laporte’s ability to open his body up and launch attacks down the City left could make his side even more threatening. After impressing in the 5-0 demolition of Norwich, Guardiola said of Laporte: “He’s the best left-footed centre-back in the world for build-up.”

Aymeric Laporte has enjoyed a fine start to the season

He also said that individuals who keep playing well will keep their place in the team – not a particularly good omen for Stones, given the quality of Laporte’s recent performances.

Then there’s the prospect of a tricky trip to Leicester on Saturday – does that really present the best conditions in which to reintroduce Stones to the side?

As is the case for City, Leicester are Stones’ bogey team.

He had a dismal afternoon at the King Power Stadium back in 2016 when Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez ran him ragged during a 4-2 Foxes win.

In 2018/19, just months after pulling off a spectacular goal-line clearance against Liverpool that ultimately won City the title, Guardiola seemed to lose all faith in the England defender. He started just one of City’s final five games of the season, and it was only because of his downfall that Vincent Kompany got the opportunity to score his wonder-goal against Leicester that put the title within City’s reach.

John Stones has had a few nightmare encounters with Leicester in the past

Having said that, there is reason to be much more optimistic about Stones these days. He appears, on the surface, to be a changed man.

His transformation last season from a lost cause into the Barnsley Beckenbauer as he’s affectionately known by City fans was astonishing. After an underwhelming 2019/20 season saw him relegated to City’s fourth-choice central defender behind the likes of Nicolas Otamendi and Eric Garcia, it’s entirely likely that in a non-Covid-hit transfer window he would have been sold.

But he wasn’t, and to his immense credit, he came roaring back. Unlike in previous seasons where his form would swing violently from good to bad, in 2020/21 he suffered no blips. Alongside Dias, he looked confident and assured for the first time in his five seasons at City.

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At 27 Stones is approaching the apex of his career. Years of struggles and setbacks have helped him mature and left him a better player than he was before. He and Harry Maguire look nailed on to be England’s starting centre-backs for a good few years to come, but given City’s immense strength in depth, things were never going to be quite so easy at club level.

The new contract handed to Stones this summer – which will keep him at the Etihad Stadium until 2026 – speaks volumes of how Guardiola and the club’s hierarchy view his standing in the team. Laporte’s knock suffered on international duty doesn’t appear to be serious, meaning he could well keep his place in the City lineup on Saturday.

Whether that happens or not, one thing is for certain: Stones will be doing everything he can to get back in the team.

Do you think John Stones will win back his place in the City side? Follow our City Fan Brands Writer Alex Brotherton on Twitter to get involved in the discussion and give us your thoughts in the comments section below.