Stereotypes and reputations can be hard to shift. Pep Guardiola’s teams play beautiful, expansive football in which every defender is perceived to be a marauding Franz Beckenbauer sweeper-type, meaning they are obviously porous at the back.
John Stones is a Rolls Royce footballer, who once told the Everton Park End at Goodison Park to chill after he performed a Cruyff turn next to his own six-yard box much to their chagrin. Being superior on the ball technically takes away his ability to defend, or so they say. Then there is Ruben Dias. With fewer than 100 league appearances for Benfica, was he really the experienced enforcer who would bolster and boost the backline?
Well you know what? All of those preconceived assumptions are wrong. City have disproved them entirely. Yeah, Pep’s attacking play is sumptuous, Stones does pirouette on the ball from time to time and Ruben Dias wasn’t taught by Paolo Maldini and Franco Baresi, but boy can City defend.
Stones was out in the cold and his City career looked to be over when the club brought in two centre-backs in Dias and Nathan Ake, and he was linked with switches to Chelsea and Arsenal, but the setback in his career has clearly speared on the Barnsley-born England international. He’s been so good he’s kept the brilliant Aymeric Laporte out of the team.
The 26-year-old has previously been deemed to ‘have a mistake in him’ but has been in imperious form, keeping eight clean sheets in 10 matches and conceding only two goals in that stretch. It’s clear he and Dias are a match made in heaven - stylish and classy on the ball but more than capable of heading everything away and tackling anything that moves. They have been a brick wall, showing the type of resolution which wins clubs titles.
“It's been great for me to play alongside him. He is so easy to get on with on and off the pitch,” Stones said of Dias. “We kept a lot of clean sheets and we have just clicked. When it happens like that, you just enjoy playing football. I'm definitely enjoying playing with him and hopefully we can continue for a long time.”
Confidence is clearly oozing, so much so that Stones scored a brace against Crystal Palace as City marched back towards the top of the Premier League. They’re favourites again. Forever lauded for their attacking prowess, they’re shining in defence too.