How good a CB is John Stones really?

by   |   11/03/2016   Comments  [Jump to last]

John Stones has had a rather confusing season. He gets praise and accolades for his elegant play, with rumors taking him to City, United, Real, Barca etc. On the other hand, he has started to get on fans' nerves a bit, and has got some rough criticisms from old-school football personalities, who are expecting to see some actual defending merits from him.

First and foremost, I do think he is talented. He is very good in possession and has got agility and reasonably quick feet to match. When these attributes occasionally combine, e.g. when he makes a nice interception, bursts forward and hits the right pass, he really looks like a great young _player_. But while his attributes makes him a terrific player on paper, this season (at last) has made me doubt whether he really is a terrific young _centre-back_, and will ever be great in his role. This doubt originates from thoughtful consideration of what attributes/ aspects should be prioritised when determining how good a CB really is. I think that the perspective from which Stones's performances is being examined is really flawed on multiple fronts.

How many headers a match is he really winning for instance? I think that he is often wrong-positioned when the ball flies in, and his body stature isn't exactly something you shuffle attackers around with. This takes me to one-on-ones, and whether if he wins enough of them a game either. Don't think so. He has been praised for his interceptions though, and I have to admit it looks nice when he gets them right. But on the other hand, he makes far too many risky tackles and goes for risky interceptions. Hence, he is caught in awkward positions.

You could blame that on him being young and learning, but let's not be too Rio Ferdinand-ish. Comparing him to other top young centre-backs in Europe, for instance PSG's Marquinhos (13 days older than John) and Atletico Madrid's Jose Gimenez (8 months younger), you can conclude that the priorities in his game are not quite correct. The ones mentioned above are first and foremost getting praised for their agility, strength, tackling ability, decent pace, positional pace etc. Their "second-string" praise comes for what they do on the ball; in their cases their mature and risk-eliminating choice-making in possession. And lets bear in mind that Marquinhos and Gimenez play in responsible roles in teams superior to Everton. Due to their solid and utterly reliable displays, they don't need the classic mantra of "them being young and learning from their mistakes".

My "big point" with all this is that isn't the fact that these two talented young defenders are being primarily praised for their no-nonsense all-round defending and secondarily by their ability to be a safe part of their respective teams' build-up plays a sign? A sign that Stones really needs to stop playing Beckenbauer II (improve his occasionally shaky decision-making on the ball), and instead focus and improve on his all-around defending, which frankly put is very lacking for a _centre-back_ that is so highly rated. Otherwise he's definitely NOT, despite RM's hypnotising linguistics, going to be a world-class defender.

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