Manchester City: John Stones faces test of maturity with Everton return


John Stones’ growth as a player will be measured when his current club Manchester City takes on his old club Everton on Sunday.

A bitter welcome awaits Manchester City defender John Stones, as the 22-year-old makes his return to Everton.

While a Toffee, Stones made his wishes clear to leave Goodison Park to club management well before he left. Chelsea tried to snatch him away two summers ago. It didn’t happen. City tried its hand last summer, and lots of posturing and £50 million later, Stones became both a Citizen and the most expensive defender ever in the Premier League.

So there’s a lot riding on the young center back’s shoulders come Sunday. He should feel a fair amount of pressure to perform. Whether Stones actually does is to be seen, but Pep Guardiola is aware of the big moment awaiting his £50 million project:

"He is strong enough, I don’t have doubts. In terms of action he is strong – I would like a player to come back to Man City and the fans to respect him but I’m not concerned.Hopefully they can respect him. Everton have a lot influence on him but he will try and play as well as possible for Man City.I think when all former players come back they want to show how good they are. They don’t have regrets or complaints, completely opposite."

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Questions of Stones’ growth under Guardiola’s tutelage will be asked Sunday too. There remains doubts about his defensive capabilities. Everton was fairly porous in the back last year, conceding 55 goals, and Stones bears some of the responsibility for it. City has been also generous this campaign, with Stones being somewhat culpable again. His decision-making when in possession, as City attempts to play out of the back under Guardiola’s mandate, has at times been suspect. Most recently, Leicester City’s Jamie Vardy infamously intercepted a lackadaisical ball of his in a 4-2 December rout of the Blues.

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Everton too boasts one of the fiercest forwards in the Premier League with Romelu Lukaku, who has 12 goals to his name thus far, one of which came in the clubs’ earlier meeting this season. Stones must contend with the powerful Belgian and likely the dangerous likes of Ross Barkley and Gerard Deulofeu tomorrow. How he fares against his former comrades in arms will be one the scintillating subplots of the match.

So there’s a lot to prove for Stones tomorrow. Not only that he builds on his goalscoring performance against West Ham in the FA Cup, but shows some return on £50 million investment spent on him; that, he’s becoming the second coming of Gerard Pique thanks to Guardiola. And, likewise, that he’s finally graduated from a mid- to upper mid-table side in Everton to a real contender and power in Guardiola’s City.

Next: Combined Best XI: Everton vs. Manchester City