Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola is taking a safety-first approach with John Stones despite the defender being a crucial part of his tactical plans.
The England international has played just 393 minutes of football for his club – and 91 for his country – due to a hip injury and while he was named in the squad for the 1-1 draw with Liverpool after a muscle injury Guardiola had no intention of using him.
Stones has played a vital role in the continuing evolution of the side as the centre-back who steps forward in possession to allow midfielders to play higher up the pitch.
Other players have been tasked with doing the same – the latest Manuel Akanji – but Stones remains the premier exponent of Guardiola’s game-plan but his manager wants to avoid more false starts after two failed comebacks already.
“He feels good but we are going to give him one, two weeks to do proper strength training sessions,” said the City boss.
“John is so important for us I let him play when maybe his muscles weren’t completely ready. He will train with us, either partial or completely, and the rest he is going to have strength training sessions in his legs to be sure when he comes back he feels stronger.
“We need him because there are a lot of games. I know the man of the match (against Liverpool) was Jeremy (Doku) but at Stamford Bridge and yesterday Manu (Akanji) was believable.
“What a signing the club has made with that guy; he can play full-back, central defender, now holding midfielder and when arriving in the final third he has the ability to make passes.”
The game against Liverpool was the first of a scheduled 10 – but likely to be 11 – in 36 days until the end of December as it includes a trip to Saudi Arabia for the Club World Cup where they are expected to progress from their semi-final.
That means Guardiola has to manage all his players, not just Stones, and he claims their training sessions will not last much longer than half-an-hour.
“Maximum 30-35 minutes. Until Tuesday (the Champions League game with RB Leipzig) it will be 10 minutes on the pitch moving the ball and that’s all.
“We cannot train. If we train we won’t have players for the next game.
“We have learned from the past and you just understand what you have to do, the places you have to move, the press.
“We have TV images and we talk individually in specific ways and after they make mistakes it is just about understanding what you have to to do.”
— Manchester City (@ManCity) November 25, 2023
Winger Doku put in the stand-out performance against Liverpool and Bernardo Silva hopes the 21-year-old, a £55million summer arrival from Rennes, can continue the form which saw him score and provide four assists against Bournemouth earlier this month.
“He’s a very good signing and he’s been playing very well for us. Hopefully he can keep going, keep learning and improving and help us win titles,” said the Portugal international.
“You cannot give him limitations, otherwise he loses his magic. We have to let him be himself and do his thing, whilst knowing he has a responsibility to help us when he doesn’t have the ball – but I think he’s been doing really well.”
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