Lee Dixon believes John Stones was “too talented for his own good” in the early stages of his Manchester City career but poured praise on the England international following a stunning return to form in 2020/21.
Arsenal legend and Amazon Prime Video pundit Dixon will be in the studio with former Bournemouth boss Eddie Howe for coverage of Everton v Man City this evening, and spoke exclusively to RadioTimes.com ahead of the big game.
Dixon – a born and raised City fan – has picked out the attributes that make Stones the supreme talent he is, and pins much of City’s success on his partnership with Ruben Dias in the backline.
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He said: “There was a little bit of a lull, filling the Vincent Kompany space for a while, and John Stones was obviously out of form. It looked a real problem for them.
“There were stop-gaps, but if you fast forward to where we are now, you look at their defensive record, it’s almost like a completely different team.
“[Stones] has been a massive part of that. He was taking the place of the first name on the team sheet for a while in Aymeric Laporte on that left side. Laporte can’t get a sniff now, that’s how well both Stones and Dias are playing.
“And I think it is a Stones and Dias situation, it’s not just one player. It’s coincided with the re-emergence of a really, really top class positional defender in Stones who has had a rocky time with, not only his form, stuff off the pitch and the mental side of the game. Since them two have been together, they’ve really allowed each other to shine.
“Being part of a back four is all about relationships and positioning, ‘out of possession, get in position’ that was the old adage we had at Arsenal – if you haven’t got the ball, be in the right position.
“If, nine times out of 10, the four are in a decent position, you will not concede that many goals. Stones’ and Dias’ positioning is exceptional.”
Stones returns to Goodison Park tonight to face former side Everton, the team he left in a £50million deal in 2016.
The 26-year-old, then just 21, struggled for form following the move with a string of high profile errors for both club and country ousting him from City and England’s starting XIs.
However, a rip-roaring campaign in 2020/21 has led to Stones being spoken of among the best defenders in the Premier League.
Dixon explained what Stones’ issue was, and how he has overcome the odds to win his place back in the hearts and minds of City staff and fans.
He said: “I think with Stones, he was almost too talented for his own good. He was left alone a little bit to get on with it because he was such a talent.
“It was like, ‘He knows what he’s doing,’ but when it’s not drilled into you about where to be and what to do all the time and you go through a bad spell, you say, ‘Right, I need to fall back on something.’ I think he got very confused with his game.
“Now it’s a lot simpler, the way he’s defending. Positionally, he’s always been very good. Speed-wise, he’s always been good. And recovery-wise. His anticipation has always been good, but on the ball at times he took a few too many chances.
“He’s took that out of his game now and everyone’s going, ‘Oh, what great defender.’ He’s always been a great defender, it’s just it was covered over with mistakes that made people say, ‘He doesn’t know what he’s doing.’
“There was still a defender in there somewhere, and we’re seeing that now. Dias has enabled that to come out of him and they’re both playing with supreme confidence.”
Everton v Manchester City will be shown live on Amazon Prime Video on the 17th February with coverage starting from 7:30pm, featuring Simon Thomas, Michael Owen, Eddie Howe and Lee Dixon, as well as commentators Peter Drury and Ally McCoist.
For the full breakdown of what games are coming up check out our Premier League fixtures on TV guide.
If you’re looking for something else to watch check out our TV Guide.