After two consecutive wins in the Champions League, changes were expected in the lineup as Manchester City faced Greek champions Olympiakos on Tuesday night. Consequently, the back line looked different with only Kyle Walker featuring as a regular in the lineup. John Stones and summer signing Nathan Ake were preferred at the heart of defence while Oleksandr Zinchenko completed the back four as left-back.
Although Stones and Ake partnered at center-back in City’s first league game of the season, a 3-1 triumph against Wolves, it was borne out of necessity. Pep Guardiola was forced into making that choice as Aymeric Laporte was sidelined as he was just recovering from Covid-19.
Ruben Dias was then acquired as the ideal partner for the Frenchman. The duo has now become first choice for the manager and preferred for the big games.
Stones now has the task of playing himself back into reckoning. And that’s not just for the club but for England as well. With the European Championship approaching, he will need to convince Gareth Southgate he deserves a recall to the Three Lions. But convincing Guardiola of his place in the team is the first step.
Against Olympiakos, the 26-year-old achieved the goal going by the manager’s remarks after the game.
“Last season we did not have enough players for competitions when we had a nightmare with injuries,” Guardiola told BT Sport.
“It was really good, especially Nathan for the beginning and from John. He’s back at his level with an incredible performance – almost perfect – and it is not easy when you are a long time without playing.
“I am so delighted for his mentality, he played really good.”
The Englishman gave a good account of himself and provided a solid partnership with Ake to shut out the Greek side. Although it was not the toughest of matches, his performance impressed the manager and will serve as a springboard for better outings through the campaign.
That will be beneficial for the team given the need for squad depth to cope with the season-long busy schedule.