Stones feels the heat as Guardiola makes point
Published 30/08/2016 | 02:30
At Everton, Roberto Martinez called him the best English centre-half since Bobby Moore. Sam Allardyce thought Pep Guardiola might mould him into a new Carles Puyol.
However, last Sunday John Stones looked nothing like Moore or Puyol. He looked lost and before an hour was up in Manchester City's 3-1 win over West Ham, the world's most expensive defender was called ashore.
It was thought that Stones was suffering from an eye injury but afterwards Guardiola remarked that the 22-year-old was not playing to the required standard. "I saw him tired, I saw him with problems," said the Manchester City manager.
Stones was replaced by Aleksandar Kolorov, who Guardiola has shifted from left-back to centre-half - much as he did with David Alaba at Bayern Munich - and the Croat looks the better bet to start the Manchester derby at Old Trafford.
Stones is not shy of hard work - last season he ran further in the Everton defence than Adam Lallana did in Liverpool's midfield, but Guardiola's is total football pushed to its extreme.
Playing centre-half for Guardiola is one of football's most demanding jobs. With the full-backs pushed up into midfield, there were only three men plus the goalkeeper providing defensive cover against West Ham.
In Munich, Guardiola's goalkeeper was Manuel Neuer, who was almost a sweeper. Willy Caballero is no Neuer.
Like Marouane Fellaini at Manchester United, Kolarov is one of those footballers whom everybody expected to leave in the summer but who is flourishing in improbable circumstances.
The Croat, however, dismissed the idea that Guardiola had simply sprinkled his magic over him.
"I don't agree that I have been revitalised under Guardiola," he said. "I always did my job properly. It doesn't matter what the papers have been saying - I am doing my job in my seventh year here.
"It is a different kind of football and at the moment we are happy with him (Guardiola) but it is just the start of the season."
The switch to centre-half surprised Kolarov, not least because Guardiola began the season with three centre- halves for whom the club had paid a total of £119m.
But it should not have come as a surprise. Whether switching Javier Mascherano from a holding midfielder to centre-half at Barcelona or shifting Philipp Lahm into midfield at Bayern, Guardiola tends to seek imaginative solutions from within his own squad.
Meanwhile, Raheem Sterling has revealed how a text message from Guardiola helped him bounce back from the lowest point in his fledgling career.
Sterling's form had been questioned ever since his £50m move from Liverpool to Manchester City a year ago, but it took a more spiteful twist when he was turned into a scapegoat for England's Euro 2016 campaign.
The winger found himself being booed by England supporters and vilified on social media to such an extent that he even described himself as the "hated one".
At the age of just 21, Sterling's career was suffering a crisis that could have damaged him beyond repair.
Guardiola, though, moved swiftly to limit the impact, texting him not only to reassure him that he would be part of his plans at City, but also promising that he would thrive.
"It was a big lift," said Sterling, when asked about the text from the new manager he had not yet met. "The manager has worked with young players, worked with great players, and I think he knows how to get the best out of his players and he's been a massive help. But not just for me, but the whole team.
City, meanwhile, are hopeful that Sergio Aguero will escape punishment for elbowing West Ham defender Winston Reid, but the striker could still miss the Manchester derby after pulling out of Argentina's upcoming World Cup qualifiers with a calf injury.
The 28 year-old is in danger of facing disciplinary action after appearing to catch Reid while the two of them competed for a ball in the latter stages of City's 3-1 victory last Sunday.
However, TV replays appear to show referee Andre Marriner was looking at the incident and, if that's the case, the FA are powerless to act, even though Reid was forced off with a throat injury after he was hit by Aguero's elbow.