Monday 24 September 2018

Stones backs City to learn their lessons and secure Wembley spot

Manchester City defender John Stones. Photo: PA
Manchester City defender John Stones. Photo: PA

Mark Critchley

John Stones believes Manchester City have learned lessons from losing their unbeaten Premier League record and that can only help them as they compete on four fronts.

City bounced back from their 4-3 defeat at Anfield by recording a comfortable victory over Newcastle United last weekend, and tonight they hope to progress past Bristol City in the EFL Cup semi-finals to book a place at Wembley.

An unprecedented quadruple remains on the cards but the defeat to Liverpool put paid to hopes of emulating Arsene Wenger's 2003-04 Arsenal 'Invincibles' by going an entire 38-game league season unbeaten.

"We obviously wanted that and I'm sure every team does but it's such a difficult thing to do," Stones admitted.

"The four competitions we're still in, the amount of games compared to some other teams, you know it takes a toll, no matter how much you rotate the squad.

"I think sometimes you've got to hold your hands up and say 'we gave it our best shot' - which we did. We didn't change our way of playing or anything like that. I think we've just got to move forward now."

Stones suggested that, while he did not feel burdened by talk of an 'Invincibles' season, the fact that such a feat is no longer possible may lift some of the pressure off him and his team-mates.

"Some people might've been thinking it: could we go unbeaten and when is it going to happen?

"That could've been going through people's heads. From what I know it wasn't, it's one of those things where we've got to take it, re-evaluate, look at the game, look at positives, negatives, everything about it and go about business like we have been.

"Even in that game at Liverpool, we didn't stop fighting until the 94th minute, we nearly scored at that point. A lot of positives to take from it."

Stones, who has recently returned from a two-month lay-off with a hamstring injury, came under the microscope for his part in Liverpool's second goal at Anfield.

Roberto Firmino barged into the City centre-half while the pair were vying for possession and, after that show of strength, chipped the ball past goalkeeper Ederson to score.

Referee Andre Marriner did not penalise Firmino for his apparent shove on Stones, judging it to be a legal shoulder charge, and Liverpool scored twice more in the following nine minutes.

"Sometimes it's so difficult to stop it," Stones said of Liverpool's second-half surge.

"It's one of those things where you've got to catch it in the moment and there's a lot of things we could've done better.

"If I go down (after Firmino's barge) maybe it's a free-kick. I tried to be honest and stay on my feet and the referee's not given a free-kick."

Stones was pleased, however, with how City responded, as Guardiola's side came close to eliminating Liverpool's three-goal lead and stealing an unlikely point.

"I think it's the character that we showed to keep going and keep pushing forward and keep coming back at Liverpool in the manner that we did that showed great resolve," he said.

© Independent News Service

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