What could he have done? – John Stones (vs Tottenham Hotspur 03/01/16)
NB: The gifs in this may take a while to load, apologies, I’m working on editing them to reduce the size and loading time
[This is a more ‘coaching focused’ (I say this though have never coached in my life) piece; instead of just drawing attention to good or bad parts of a player’s game, I’ll try to suggest how they could change in future to improve. This sounds pompous already.]
Coincidentally, one of the first instances of room for improvement also features one of the tendencies of Stones which my gut has a sincere problem with.
In truth, on the initial through-ball which bypasses him, he probably doesn’t do anything wrong.
When the ball is about to be played, this is the most obvious pass to make, both nearer the runner and central, therefore more threatening, so it’s understandable that Stones’ body stance is positioned towards this.
He gets bypassed by a good pass, but it’s his reaction that bugs me.
He essentially stands and watches it, seemingly not concerned about getting into a new position relative to the new situation. In fairness, logically there is no major reason to scramble back after being bypassed, he’s basically as useful standing still as he would be having been in the process of sprinting back. However, it feels like this would affect other parts of his game, situations where it would matter, such as the below.
In this case, he tells Coleman to head back to Howard in goal (assuming that Coleman wins the header of course).
I’d rather he was closer to the event (here the opaque ghost Stones is where he was in real life, the solid version is more where I would prefer him to be). There are several reasons for this.
Firstly, it gives Coleman another option – with a man bearing down on him, choosing to direct the ball towards his own goal is potentially dangerous, and a lot of where he will choose to head it will depend on the two players’ body positions when the ball actually gets to them.
Secondly, it means that Stones is in position to mop up a loose ball that could occur. The header could bounce anywhere. Coleman could land awkwardly while the Spurs player lands well and able to chase down the ball wherever it landed; Alli (number 20, the closest Spurs player to Stones) could decide to make a run for the second ball. Just generally, making sure you’re closer to where it might land seems the prudent thing to do.
Thirdly, and this is one of those intangible things that are probably overplayed by pundits and fans, these type of situations give the impression that he doesn’t care all that much. He didn’t care when a through-ball went past him, he didn’t care about helping out a team-mate, he didn’t care later in the match about being caught in possession later in the match and choosing not to (refusing to, essentially) pass back to Howard while being closed down in his own area.
On a surface level, it isn’t a good look (which isn’t necessarily a huge worry), but it may well run deeper than that (which is).
A few positional notes now.
I think here he should be a yard or so closer to Kane as the ball comes down the Spurs left. There’s a fairly large space between him and his centre-back partner Funes Mori which Kane is occupying. When the ball does come to Kane, just because of the situation, he will always be in some space. Stones covers the ground to him well, but having been a little closer to him initially would have helped a little.
Here, the header down from Alli (20) to Kane (10) is always on, so I question why Stones is not positioned more directly in the path between the two players. If the header from Alli is marginally better, there is no way Stones can stop it in his current position, but he could have got into a position a yard or so ahead of where he is. As soon as he turns, he should be sprinting to get into that position.
Here, Stones is goal-side of Kane, but not intelligently. While it ends up not mattering that much because Spurs aren’t in a position to cross the ball, a combination of being too wide of centre and too square on to Kane means that the striker easily has a run on him, as is seen towards the end of the gif.
I would prefer Stones to either be a step or so to his left and backwards, or facing slightly more towards the ball, so he is in a better position to match a run by Kane should it occur (although I’m aware that the camera angle may be affecting how his positioning looks).
The below gif is a bad example of trying to block a striker off.
In fairness, Kane is forced wide of him and therefore wide of Howard, though it’s clumsy and isn’t so much blocking Kane as diverting him. Blocking the striker requires strength (which can either be purely muscular or in terms of knowing how to position your body so as to make it difficult to move) and awareness of where the player behind you is. I think that Stones thinks that Kane is more directly behind him than he actually is, which is why the striker is able to almost squeeze around the left hand side of him.
Awareness is something that others have said Stones has to work on (there were a couple of minor occasions when awareness was lacking in this match but nothing major). Awareness – and this is where I show my lack of coaching skill/knowledge – is probably one of the harder areas of the game to coach, but like with anything it will probably improve with time and practice, forcing the player to absorb the information that they are seeing around them by making them question it and thinking about their surroundings.
Stones’ ball-playing ability/tendency is well-known (although there were several times in this match where he encouraged a team-mate to hoof the ball clear when a pass to him was an option). This match saw one of the best examples of him going a little too far maybe.
While he doesn’t lose the ball (though he is fortunate that the referee judged he was fouled in that passage, otherwise trouble could have developed), he has to balance the risk/reward of insisting on keeping the ball in these types of scenarios. The sequence is almost a big ‘screw you’ to Tim Howard in particular, who he could have passed to on at least three occasions during those few seconds.
Stones passing mentality is one of looking for the best pass possible, and an earlier moment in the match shows this rather well.
Stones clearly doesn’t see a decent pass into midfield so turns towards Funes Mori. With Kane approaching, he seems to be in two minds about the pass. It’s clear that he sees the opportunity of committing Kane to trying to intercept that pass to Funes Mori, in which case he could move back towards the midfield and look for a more attacking pass, hence the stutter on the ball. Kane doesn’t commit like Stones is trying to make him, so he plays the pass to Funes Mori after all.
While looking for better passes is good, I think Stones needs to be a little more decisive, which may be related to evaluating the situation and absorbing information, the lack of which may have also been responsible for his bad block of Kane mentioned earlier.
Stones is a confusing player. He has talents, but also a number of things that people may consider basic for a central defender which he probably needs to work on. For England’s sake, I hope he does.