When John Stones was signed by Manchester City from Everton last summer as the most expensive English central defender in history, there was a general feeling that he would be an untouchable starter. After all, Stones was a personal request from Pep Guardiola, who wanted to start his process of rebuilding the City squad with Stones as the main central defender, with his abilities as a ball-playing center-back shining throughout the season.
It hasn't really worked like that. Stones started very well, just like the whole team, and was a really good player during City's 10-game winning streak to start the season. He kept the defense safe, played the ball well and was constantly pictured with Pep Guardiola on the sidelines, receiving instructions on how to play from the back and help the team.
As City went into a deep run of inconsistency that's lasted until this day, Stones has followed the team's form again, and began to display some deep flaws in his game, especially defensively. Stones was to blame in most of City's worst losses this season, for example against Leicester City and Everton. He is constantly caught out of position, makes simple passing mistakes and just doesn't seem mentally tough enough to endure difficult moments.
Of course, this could be said about basically the entire defensive group, but Stones has been used as the scapegoat for City's problems. He's not at fault for everything, obviously, but it's clear that Stones isn't the first name on Guardiola's teamsheet anymore.
So what does he need to regain his starting spot? "Play better, you dummy!", you might say. Yes, that's true, but Pep Guardiola himself has a take on the subject.
“When his manager says 'Today, you are going to play', that’s what he needs: fight like he fought from the beginning of the season."
Source: Manchester Evening News
"He has played a lot and now for this kind of stadium, for Benteke, for the long balls, I decided to play two central defenders who are stronger in the air.
“I will continue to play left-footed central defenders on the left side, like Kolarov, but I remember the last games he (Stones) played — especially at Anfield, even in Goodison Park — he played good.”
So let's break this down: Pep makes it clear that he will rotate the center backs, but Aleksandar Kolarov appears to be ahead of the pack since he's a left-footed defender, so John Stones theoretically fights for place on the right side of central defense with Nicolas Otamendi and Vincent Kompany, who now appears to be a real option in the position. City will play every three days until the rest of the season, basically, so Stones, Otamendi and Kompany will get to play alongside Kolarov every week.
When he was at Everton, Stones didn't play in Europe, so he only played once a week. That's basically what he's got now at City, so it isn't a big change for him. He's still young, he will mature, and he's still playing.
We all thought he'd be the untouchable man in the City defense, and he might still be in the future. Right now, he just needs to fight.