It's time for Everton to sensibly reintegrate John Stones back into the starting XI

By Matt Jones 22/03/2016  0 Comments  [Jump to last]

After another meek effort against Arsenal, it's tough to think of salient points to make about this team which haven't been stressed already, very eloquently on this website or further afield.

So instead of forcing myself to delve through the minutiae of a truly moribund performance and again cast aspersions over a manager who is beginning to lose more and more support from a disgruntled fanbase, I thought it'd be better to try and find some factors which could potential catalyse the recovery process.

One tweak which could assist Everton for the better at this juncture is a shift in defensive personnel; it's time for John Stones to come back into this team.

Of course, the latest impressions of the young defender are not positive ones, as he toiled as part of a back three once again against Arsenal in the second half on Saturday.

The 21-year-old has clearly lost confidence in recent weeks, struggling to recapture the swagger and steel which he blended so well in his first two seasons at the club. He was dropped, injured and has had to watch on from the sidelines lately, with Ramiro Funes Mori and Phil Jagielka doing an overall decent job at the base of the side.

But in the wake of the loss to the Gunners, where Everton were bereft of composure at the back – an issue amplified by the absence of the assured Gareth Barry – and the Argentina international was again culpable in the build up to both goals conceded, it was tough to imagine Stones' presence not making a positive impact in various aspects.

It was right for the youngster to come out of the side when he did. Errors against Leicester City, Swansea City and a few reckless challenges were indicative of a player whose focus seemed skewed. Questions were raised about his willingness to still be at the club following the summer transfer wrangle with Chelsea.

Watching on from the dugout will have likely done him good lately and there have been clear signs that Roberto Martinez is fighting off a reflex to get his prized asset back in the side in Everton's recent contests.

Now, with the Toffees' defensive woes rearing their head again, would be the right time to reintegrate him fully. But it's imperative it's done correctly.

The manager has done little to help the youngster's return since he was dropped from the side. At Aston Villa he was deployed in a hybrid full-back-centre-back position, while against West Ham United he was part of a back three, a system Everton were using for the first time in 2015-16, and pushed to right-back following Kevin Mirallas' red card.

Then in his latest cameo from the bench'being introduced at half-time against Arsenal'Stones again made up a back three, although the set-up in front of him was without any structure whatsoever. His frail mindset was exposed.

It's reminiscent of a similar situation involving Ross Barkley last season. The midfielder had been injured, been out of the side and as Martinez sought to strike up some form in the England international, he played him wide on the right, wide on the left and in a deeper role; such positional inconsistency was not conducive to his revival.

That "positional consistency" is something Stones needs too. Everton have been at their finest under Martinez with the ball-playing defender next to Phil Jagielka in the centre of a back four. And while Funes Mori has done a decent job in his debut term in English football, Stones has the edge on him in a lot facets of defending.

It's been forgotten that this is a young man who is an exceptional player, one supporters were swooning about as early November, when Stones turned in a Man of the Match display at West Ham. His assuredness in possession, reading of the game and telescopic legs were an aesthetic joy; those qualities don't just disintegrate.

It's a revisionism which can hopefully be reversed between now and the end of the season. "I thought when he came out he looked refreshed, he looked full of energy, like the player he looked like at the start of the season," Martinez said in the wake of the defeat to Arsenal, suggesting a return for the youngster could be on his mind.

The manager has a critical role to play if he does opt for the 21-year-old in Everton's next clash too. He needs to ensure Stones' cavalier traits are tempered, that he has ample protection in the side and, as aforementioned, facilitates an environment in which the centre-back can gradually showcase the levels which prompted the Toffees to turn down '40 million for him this summer.

Should Stones return at his pomp it won't solve the multitude of issues which are gripping this team at the moment. But with some key games still to come this season, there's little doubt that this is a side that would be richly improved with the youngster in the XI and performing well again. Hopefully he'll be handed the chance to showcase a timely reminder of his undeniable class.

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