John Stones has explained his decision to go “back to basics” in a bid to rediscover his form for Manchester City.
Stones scored twice – his third brace for club and country – in City’s 4-0 Premier League victory over Crystal Palace on Sunday.
The win, City’s fifth in succession in the top flight, sent Pep Guardiola’s team into second place above defending champions Liverpool, who could only draw with leaders Manchester United at Anfield.
Though Palace, shorn of the injured Wilfried Zaha, were hardly a threat, Stones and his centre-back partner Ruben Dias were rock solid as City gave boss Guardiola an early birthday present the day before he turns 50.
City are the first team to record five consecutive victories in the Premier League this season, while in the 10 games Stones and Dias have started together in all competitions, Guardiola’s side have claimed nine wins, one draw and conceded just once.
10 – Manchester City in all competitions this season with John Stones and Rúben Dias starting:
1 goal conceded
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) January 17, 2021
Stones, a big-money signing from Everton in 2016, appeared to be surplus to requirements after an injury-hit 2019-20 campaign, with the 26-year-old handed just 12 league starts.
However, his first Premier League goals for City – and his first in the top flight since he netted for Everton against United in April 2015 – have capped off a remarkable turnaround in fortunes.
“We knew it was a tough game today. I put a lot of pressure on myself to get goals. I need to contribute by getting those goals,” Stones told Sky Sports.
“I’m just trying to keep improving, building day by day on the training pitch, give a platform for the lads to express themselves up the pitch and get some goals.
“We’re taking great pride in it, keeping clean sheets, it’s what we’re there to do. Hopefully we can keep the run going, keep as many clean sheets as we can because we know how vital they are in big games and in games like today.
“We know what’ll happen if we keep getting them. We don’t have to go out and score four or five goals every week. We’ve done it when it’s 1-0 and we’ve fought right until the 90th minute. We kind of take the credit at the back but we’ve got to give credit to the whole team.”
Asked how tough it had got when he was out of the side, Stones replied: “Very. It’s always tough when you’re not playing and you don’t get a run of games, and when you do you don’t perform to what you can do because maybe you’ve put too much pressure on yourself.
“I’ve gone back to basics, looked at myself first, looked at what I can improve on in every aspect.
“You need to look yourself in the mirror and ask if I’m doing everything for myself and for the team and I did that, kept working hard, kept the faith and grinding away, keep trying to improve and I still am now. I don’t think you ever stop improving yourself.”
Stones’ first goal was a glancing header from Kevin De Bruyne’s sensational outside-of-the-boot cross – the Belgium midfielder’s 100th assist for City.
“Kevin’s done it over the seasons that I’ve been here,” Stones said.
“I remember a few, off the top of my head, to Leroy [Sane] when he was here, some outrageous passes that you just don’t know how he’s done it.
“As he’s put the ball in I knew it was coming straight to me. It’s something we can only dream of and Kev can just do it when he wants.”