John Stones and Ruben Dias are the miracle wall of Manchester City … The central defenders were crucial
John Stones and Ruben Dias are Manchester City’s WONDER WALL … The Englishman has added vigilance to his game this season, while the Portuguese has transformed the team and looks confident he will become a future captain
- Center-backs John Stones and Ruben Dias were crucial to Manchester City
- Stones is now performing consistently and Dias has transformed the team
- Oleksandr Zinchenko has worked hard in the meantime and is making a big impact
Of all the moments that shaped John Stones’ rebirth, one relatively seminal decision captures the essence of his revival.
Manchester City had a one-goal lead in the Emirates in February. The game was getting old and Arsenal still had a pinch of an unlikely point. The city was under a little pressure for a while.
On his way to his own goal, Stones was the last man to mop, but had a quiet runner nearby lurking to jump on a sloppy back pass.
John Stones and Ruben Dias’ center-back was key to Manchester City
Twelve months earlier, Stones might have played that pass blind to Ederson. But this time he didn’t, instead he checked his surroundings and saw the attacker from the corner of his eye. The ball back to his goalkeeper was careful. City advanced to the field and kept the clean. They usually keep clean sheets when he’s on the team.
That’s not to say that Stones didn’t operate with care before, but there was a noticeable vigilance towards his game this year. That kind of decision-making at Arsenal – simple, basic stuff – is what he enjoys these days and it was evident on Tuesday night.
Another shutout, this time against Neymar and Paris Saint-Germain, brought City to a first Champions League final.
Stones has shown great signs of improvement and is so adept at reading defense situations
So adept at reading defensive situations, Stones was the only fielder not trying to tackle all night, while his partner, the stately Ruben Dias, transformed the team and those around him.
The pair made five crucial blocks between them and completed eight clearances – an unshakable wall as PSG rushed towards a goal.
In the 24 games that Stones and Dias have started together, with 22 wins, City has gotten more zero (16) than goals conceded (9). It helps that the two men have grown closer.
“Ruben took a (shot) straight to the head on Tuesday, which I couldn’t believe,” said Kyle Walker. That’s what he does. He likes it, he likes to defend and I think we all like to defend. ‘
Walker, whose own game has been greatly improved by fierce competition with Joao Cancelo, is right. The high-fiving and bear hugs after crucial defense were a hallmark of their success in a campaign that could end in a Treble.
Ruben Dias has helped transform the team since moving the £ 62m from Benfica
Dias took £ 62 million from Benfica days after a gruesome 5-2 home defeat to Leicester City in September. Some of that fee was offset by Nicolas Otamendi who went the other way for £ 15 million – smart business in particular.
The Portugal international – who will only turn 24 next week – is being talked about as a future captain and will almost certainly earn enough player votes to make up a fifth of next season’s leader group. He is intense, dedicated to his profession. City’s official Twitter account has jumped on the nickname ‘Father Ruben’ given to him by supporters.
“What I enjoy the most is not even the blank slate,” said Dias Sportsmail in January. “It’s the other team that doesn’t even hit the target. What I enjoy the most is that my goalkeeper doesn’t save. If it’s not me, who will be proud to defend? It pleases me to make the other team feel helpless. ‘
Dias will have been particularly pleased with the last three halves against PSG as Mauricio Pochettino’s side failed to force Ederson to make a single save.
That’s not just because of Dias and Stones. It was – and always will be – a collective effort.
Oleksandr Zinchenko is a shining example. This is his fourth campaign with the Etihad and he has never stepped into it as the first choice left back. Besides, he’s not even a left back. But he’s consistently taken that position his later in the seasons and this one is no different.
Oleksandr Zinchenko has continued to work hard and is now showing his worth to City
He is more defensively robust, avoids mistakes and maintains an attacking fervor by growing up as a winger – as evidenced by the run-up to Riyad Mahrez’s opening goal in the second leg.
Eyebrows were raised around City when Zinchenko turned down a move to Wolves in 2018 and would rather fight for his place. Some could not understand and insisted that he should not look inside. The Ukrainian told the media during that pre-season tour that a stay in Manchester was his ‘dream’.
Zinchenko and Stones are linked in that regard. Both have fought against the expectations within this team. Stones never left last summer, but were so far in the pecking order that the idea of going to the European Championship was absurd.
Now it would be ridiculous if he didn’t play every minute for England this summer.