John Stones will start for Manchester City against Newcastle as he looks to show his future still lies at the club.
The England international was picked out as a priority before Pep Guardiola arrived at the Etihad and was a marquee signing in the Catalan’s first transfer window at the club. He has played an important role in the success that has followed but has failed to hold down a regular place in the starting XI in any of the four seasons as a result of form and fitness issues.
While City’s manager once declared that Stones would always be at the club while he was, the search for a centre-back this summer to partner Aymeric Laporte could further limit Stones’ minutes on the pitch and has led to transfer links away from the club; Arsenal and Everton have been credited with interest in recent months.
Guardiola stuck by his 2018 words when the comment was raised ahead of the player’s latest comeback, but the manager admitted that his view alone will not be definitive when they sit down at the end of the season to discuss plans for the squad next season.
“I’ve said many times and I will continue to say that I’m more than delighted with John as a person, as a professional, everything,” said the coach. “What I want is the best for him. We’ll speak at the end of the season about what is going to happen.
“Sometimes my wish is not the wish of the players, or the wish of the club. I’m honest with them and the moment I will feel that we have to change any player, we’ll talk to them.
“He’s a young player and we want him to be consistent, to train regularly and recover. There are players who can play every three days for 11 months and it is not a problem, others struggle more to be fit and we have to find the key to training and playing every three days. This is what we want.”
It has been a particularly frustrating season for Stones because he enjoyed such a confident pre-season, looking steady in the tour fixtures and the Community Shield and then excelling on the opening day at West Ham.
But injury then sidelined him and he has been unable to put a run of games together ever since. An injury suffered in May as the players trained for the resumption of the Premier League was compounded by the development of Eric Garcia, who has started every match he has been available since the restart and pushed his way further into the manager’s plans.
It is hoped that starting against Newcastle can be the first step back towards rebuilding the form and confidence of Stones.
“I never doubt the quality of John for one second but when you don’t play, and are injured again and rotated, of course it happens. The players are good when they play in a routine and confident. Even the top players need minutes and playing, being fit or being injured.,” said Guardiola.
“This is what happened with John in this period. At the same time, when we came back we have Fernandinho, we have Nico [Otamendi], we have Ayme, and we have a new guy in Eric who is doing incredibly well.
He has to play for himself, focus on what he has to do. He knows he will not be judged for the bad actions, the good moments or bad moments but being what they are and we know what John is and his quality and perspective is there.
“We want them fit when they can’t play they are sad and worried, it’s normal. What we want is the best for him, He’s trained for the last 10 days or two weeks, his behaviour was always good and we are happy for him to start tomorrow.”