After having such a tremendously successful World Cup with England, it’s surprising John Stones is still not a regular starter in the Premier League for Manchester City. Yes, he started the game against Huddersfield at home. But the center-back pairing was changed again when City faced Wolves in the very next match.
While that speaks to the quality and depth of the squad at Pep Guardiola’s disposal, consistency with the lineup always has its merits. Vincent Kompany was the preferred pairing this time for Aymeric Laporte in the center of the defence.
Manchester City dropped points in only the third league game of the season against Wolves. But it was not the first time that Nuno Espirito Santo’s men have held the Sky Blues.
They did the same in the Carabao Cup last season. They were the first side to stop City from scoring holding the then Premier League leaders to a goalless scoreline in 120 minutes of football. A similar scenario played out at the Molineux only this time the game ended in a scored draw.
And that was not an accident. It was all planned, and executed. After the Carabao Cup match last term, Nuno commended his team saying:
“The boys worked so hard and stuck to the plan. We had chances to win the game and came into it more in the second half.”
To go ahead and execute the plan to relative success once again is proof of its efficacy. Some other sides will definitely follow that example.
Beyond the handball goal and penalty decision not given, the bottom line is that City failed to display the usual rampage that is now associated with the team. After running riot against Huddersfield at the Etihad Stadium winning 6-1, the defending champions simply failed to break down a Wolves side that put up a brilliant defensive display.
As it was with the team when it played Man City last October, the default position for Wolves on the day was for all the players to queue behind the ball and attack speedily and with venom whenever they had it. It is a strategy other sides have also deployed to success in the past. And Wolves certainly won’t be the last side to use the strategy this season.
Under such circumstances, City need to parade defenders that not only carry the ball forward but can quickly return to provide defensive cover and stifle counter-attacks. It’s no secret that Kompany is not quite the player he was years back.
In the Wolves game, for all his work rate, the Belgian was not one of City’s best players on the pitch. He was booked early in the game for a rough tackle in one of those fast breaks by the home side. That made him even less effective in preventing further attacks as he had to play with caution.
Stones’ youthful energy and agility make him better suited for City’s defence as he can cover more ground than his aging skipper. Either of Laporte or Otamendi should be the partner for the 24-year-old.
In cases where the manager wants to play three at the back, the Englishman should be the first name on the list as far as defence is concerned. Same applies for when Fernandinho requires a rest in defensive midfield. Stones should be the go-to man to be utilised as a defensive midfield cover while Kompany starts in central defence.
Otherwise, the 32-year-old should play backup for the other center backs. He can also be utilised at times when the team needs an experienced and a calm head to close out difficult games where the team wants to maintain a valuable result.