Aymeric Laporte and John Stones are the future for Pep Guardiola and Manchester City
Ahead of the Manchester derby, live on Sky Sports on Super Sunday, we look at how and why Aymeric Laporte and John Stones have become Pep Guardiola’s first-choice centre-back pairing.
Manchester City have scored 33 times in their first 11 Premier League games this season, but it is the goals against column which looks most impressive. Pep Guardiola’s side have only conceded four so far, keeping seven clean sheets in the process.
Danny Ings’ penalty in the 6-1 demolition of Southampton was the first goal they had conceded in 10 hours of Premier League action. Over the course of the campaign, City have let in fewer goals, and allowed their opponents fewer shots, than anyone else. Having shattered a Premier League scoring record last season, could they now do the same for goals conceded?
There is a long way to go before Chelsea’s record of 15 in 2004/05 will become realistic, but continue at their current rate and City will beat it. Guardiola’s side look more resilient than ever and it owes a lot to a youthful centre-back pairing of Aymeric Laporte and John Stones.
The duo have started City’s last six Premier League and Champions League games in a row, including Wednesday’s 6-0 win over Shakhtar Donetsk, keeping senior team-mates Vincent Kompany and Nicolas Otamendi out of the team and showing they are here to stay. “Yes, that is the idea,” said Guardiola this week, “that the club has these guys for the long-term.”
Laporte has arguably been the most important figure in City’s recent improvement. The 24-year-old showed his considerable potential last season following his £57m arrival from Atheltic Bilbao at the end of January, starting 13 games out of 20 before the end of the campaign, but it is only this season that he has assumed a key role in the team.
He is the only outfield player to have played every minute of Manchester City’s Premier League season so far. The Frenchman has become a commanding presence in their backline. He has made more clearances than any of his team-mates and ranks second for interceptions, blocks and aerial challenges won.
Laporte has helped keep things tight defensively but he plays a crucial role with the ball as well as without it. He is the only left-footer among their senior centre-backs. It’s a detail which matters to his manager.
“He gives us an alternative for the build-up, quicker and faster than the other ones,” said Gaurdiola recently. “When the ball comes from the right, he immediately controls to the left and plays it to Leroy [Sane]. That is quicker than we would play with a right-footer in that position.
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“He [also] goes and drives a little bit to the middle so he can play the balls to Riyad [Mahrez], to Raz [Sterling], to the right side, so he gives us two alternatives to make our game quicker. It’s so important to have a left-footed central defender, and he is fit. He is training every single day.”
Laporte’s importance to City’s build-up play is underlined by the statistics. According to Opta, he is averaging more passes per 90 minutes than any other Premier League player to have played more than 300 minutes with the exception of Chelsea midfielder Jorginho. He ranks among the top five for passing accuracy, too, with a success rate of 92.2 per cent.
The man at the top of the passing accuracy rankings is Laporte’s centre-back partner Stones, who has completed 549 passes out of 582 at a rate of 94.3 per cent so far this season. Those numbers are nothing new for the England international, who has been similarly efficient in possession throughout his Premier League career, but he has shown clear improvement in other areas.
Most significantly, Stones is showing greater maturity. His progress at the start of last season was cut short by injury last November and he struggled to recapture his early-season form when he returned to fitness in the second half of the campaign, but he is demonstrating consistency again now and appears to have cut out the errors which dogged his game, too.
Between 2013/14, his first season at Everton, and 2016/17, his first at Manchester City, no outfield player made more errors leading to a goal than Stones in the Premier League. Only his former Everton team-mate Phil Jagielka made more errors leading to an opposition shot.
Stones was exposed at times last season, making costly mistakes in both legs of their EFL Cup quarter final defeat to Bristol City in January, but in the Premier League he has not made single error leading to a shot since City’s 1-1 draw with Liverpool in March 2017. According to Opta, he has not made an error leading to a goal since their meeting with Everton three months earlier.
It represents more good news for Guardiola. Laporte and Stones only played once together in the Premier League last season and the City boss insists Otamendi and Kompany still have key roles to play now, but recent evidence suggests there has been a changing of the guard. In Laporte and Stones, Guardiola has the foundations for further success.
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