Manchester City defender John Stones has opened up on the impact Pep Guardiola had on his growth, and how the manager has revolutionised City’s play style in the last four and a half years.
The defender, who was one of Pep’s first signings when he arrived in Manchester, said in an interview with BT Sport; “When I signed for City and came under Pep, it was like I was a little kid again playing in the park...”
“It took me to a different level of understanding the game, the roles and responsibilities and how he’s simplified the game.”
Stones was heavily criticised in his first few seasons at the club, as English football acclimatised to City’s drastically changed tactical outlook. He added; “At times when we play it’s extravagant, playing out from the back and everything looks really nice – it looks hard. Everyone’s taking one or two touches, setting the ball in areas where maybe in the past you’d turn into a brick wall.”
“Things like that are just so simple but maybe hard to get across to players. He does that so well, and simplifies, and makes you maybe able to play with your eyes closed because you know where everyone’s going to be.”
Focusing on his individual growth, Stones said; “He’s taken my game to another level in terms of football knowledge, understanding where to be on a pitch, and being better in possession with regards to where to pick up the ball and how I can break down lines.”
“We squeeze the pitch so the ball goes back and then we squeeze two or three metres. It sounds so small but it has a massive effect and knock-on effect for the midfield and strikers. It closes the gaps between the lines. It forces the other team long.”
He finished by saying; “The keeper plays higher if the ball goes over the top but if you watch our body position as we’re squeezing it’s always on the side, so we’re ready to go both ways. The little details like that help so much.”
Stones, alongside new signing Ruben Dias, has lead City’s defence as being the best in England this season. City have only conceded 13 goals all season long, and Stones has only conceded twice in his 12 league starts.
Stones also touched on the subject of City’s failure so far to win a major European title. He began by saying; “There’s definitely been a pressure aspect for a few years, certainly since I’ve been here.”
“Pressure from ourselves which can sometimes work both ways. We’ve always done so well in the early stages and it’s just getting past that next bit.”
“We’ve put it in our sights this season definitely. We need to push for it, we need it as a club, we need it as players. We’ve set standards over these past three or four years that the other teams haven’t and I think it’s the next stage for us to go to.”
Since Guardiola’s arrival, City have never surpassed the quarter-final stage of the Champions League.
Stones added; “Getting that bit of silverware in the trophy cabinet is so difficult to do. It’ll be a massive achievement and something we’re putting pressure on ourselves to achieve.”
Manchester City are scheduled to play the first leg against Borussia Monchengladbach in the Round of 16 of this season’s European campaign at the end of February – however there are ongoing concerns over where the match will be located due to the ongoing Covid-19 travel restrictions in Germany.
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