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Pep Guardiola said he is delighted Manchester City are seeing the best of John Stones again but wants it to be a sustained re-emergence from the England defender.

Since the weekend before Christmas last season, Stones has started just eight Premier League games and there have been just three substitute appearances dotted around those.

But Stones played from the off in the three recent consecutive league matches against Burnley, Fulham and Manchester United, before Guardiola shuffled his pack and selected Nathan Ake and Ruben Dias for the midweek Premier League draw with lowly West Brom.

Stones has looked newly assured and ready to play a big part for City, after injuries and off-field issues had appeared to affect his career, with Guardiola pointing to both factors on Friday.

There is considerable competition for the centre-back roles at the club, with Aymeric Laporte also pushing for selection, yet Guardiola sees a fit and focused Stones as a major asset.

“But it’s just two or three games,” Guardiola pointed out. “So a defender has to be consistent all season so he gives a good, good feeling.”

The former Barcelona boss added: “Of course we see him happier and stronger because he’s fit, he’s not injured two or three weeks and has to stop for one month. That happened a lot.

“He’s played really well and that’s helping his confidence to do it. Of course his personal life now it’s settled, it’s a lot better, he’s a guy who’s so sensible and that helps now to be focused.”

Guardiola said the 26-year-old Stones must look after his body and his mind for the rest of his career.

In the Manchester derby against United last weekend, Stones recovered the ball 10 times, just one short of his highest Premier League match tally in a City shirt.

Stones only lost possession three times and had a passing accuracy of 96.51 per cent, a healthy number for the ball-playing former Everton man.

City look well set defensively, but goals have been hard to come by this season, unusually. They will look to show some attacking fluency at high-flying Southampton on Saturday.

Sergio Aguero has missed much of the campaign through injury and neither Gabriel Jesus nor Raheem Sterling has hit a significant scoring streak.

Guardiola wants City’s players to be seen as a collective, through their successes and failures, and said: “It’s a big mistake believing there is one single player, two single players, as the reason we are not able to score goals, or saying one player or two player why we concede few.

“I see the football as a club and as a total and everyone is important for what you have to do. The numbers speak for themselves, we don’t score goals.”

Guardiola said the answer is simply to “play better to create chances” and contended that City “can still have an incredible season ahead of us”.

He added that “many players here for a long time know exactly what we have to do”, and said that was to win and keep winning.

City headed into the weekend eight points behind leaders Liverpool, albeit with one game in hand.

“But you have to win it,” Guardiola said of that extra game. “We have to start to win games and games in a row to be there at the end. If we don’t it will not be possible.”

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December 19, 2020
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