Pep Guardiola is happy to see his men cut out the individual errors which blighted last season’s Premier League and European challenge
John Stones is determined to make the most of his remarkable turnaround after reestablishing himself at the heart of Manchester City‘s defence.
The England international’s future at the Etihad Stadium looked uncertain in the summer when Pep Guardiola drafted in Ruben Dias and Nathan Ake to eliminate the defensive problems that blighted City last season.
But Stones has returned in brilliant form to dislodge first-choice centre-back Aymeric Laporte and help City to 13 clean sheets in all competitions – the most of any club in Europe’s top five leagues.
City have not conceded a goal with Stones on the pitch for 718 minutes going back to the opening game of the season, and he is revelling in being back in the side.
“It makes you realise how hard you have worked and that the hard work is paying off,” the former Everton defender said ahead of Monday’s night return to Goodison Park.
“It makes you realise how special it is to be out there and also to realise that when other players aren’t playing, how they feel and what you should do for them when you are on the pitch.
“There are a lot of aspects you can look at but it is something you cannot take for granted. There is always twists and turns and you have got to grab it with both hands and enjoy it and that is what I am doing.
“I am really enjoying my football. It always makes it easier when you are winning and keeping clean sheets but I am just trying to move in the right direction and to keep trying to become better as a player and as a team.”
Individual errors have been costly to City, particularly with Guardiola putting his defence under pressure by asking them to defend high up the pitch.
But since the 5-2 defeat to Leicester in September when they conceded three penalties, the City boss has been happy to see his side largely eliminate their mistakes.
“What we’ve improved in is that individually we don’t make stupid mistakes,” Guardiola said. “The opponent can make a good action and we applaud, but we are not making mistakes. Everyone is focused.
“That has helped us, we’ve conceded three goals in the last 10 games.
“We conceded five against Leicester because we gave them three penalties but otherwise we have been incredibly solid. Maintain it, don’t make mistakes, it will help us.”
It has not been an easy two years for Stones as he struggled with injuries, being out of the side, off-field issues and losing his place as a regular in the England squad.
But he has been grateful for the support of his team-mates and believes he has learnt a lot about his own game.
“I think I have learnt who I am as a player,” he added. “I have learnt a lot of things football-wise as a person as well.
“I think the biggest compliment is to my team-mates as I wouldn’t be where I am without them and my coaching staff.
“You get to learn how to become a winner from winners that are still here and have left.
“I have learnt a lot from players in different positions as well. I think we have such a variety of players here with different qualities and attributes that has made me better.
“It is a difficult question to answer but I think a winning mentality is the one I have learnt.”
Stones says he is enjoying the pressure that comes with being in a City side pushing for Premier League and Champions League success.
“Win or lose, the pressure is there and pressure is something we definitely thrive off and take a lot of motivation to do better and keep the pressure on the other teams,” he said.
“There are all types of scenarios that run through your head at this club and it is exciting to be a part of it.
“We have got to just keep striving to be better and better and keep that consistency we have had in previous seasons.”