London (AFP) – John Stones faces a battle to win back his place at Manchester City after manager Pep Guardiola expressed reservations about his ability to deal with high balls and powerful opponents.
City paid £47.5 million ($59.6 million, 55.7 million euros) to sign Stones, 22, from Everton in August, but after some error-strewn displays, he has started their last two matches on the bench.
Speaking after City’s 3-0 FA Cup win at Crystal Palace on Saturday, Guardiola also suggested Stones, Nicolas Otamendi and Vincent Kompany are competing to partner converted left-back Aleksandar Kolarov.
Asked what Stones needs to do to earn a starting berth, Guardiola told reporters at Selhurst Park: “Fight like he fought in the beginning of the season.”
“If you see my line-ups for the last three, four, five months, I try to have all the players play. I try. So he’s played a lot.
“But now, for this kind of stadium, for (Christian) Benteke, for the long balls, I decide to play two central defenders more strong in the air (Kompany and Kolarov).
“I will continue to play a left-footed central defender on the left side, like Kolarov. But I remember the last games he played, especially in Anfield, even in Goodison Park, they played good.”
Kompany, the City captain, made an assured return to action after recovering from a knee injury sustained during his side’s 2-1 win at the same ground in November.
Guardiola praised City’s medical staff for their work with the injury-prone Belgium international, saying they were “some of the best I ever worked with in my life”.
But he said he was unsure whether Kompany, 30, would be able to keep his place in the starting XI for Wednesday’s trip to West Ham United in the Premier League.
“We are going to see (on Sunday) the regeneration and after then we will see,” Guardiola said.
“It depends on his physical condition. Of course he’s an important player, but I always believe that how many chances created, how many chances conceded, does not depend on just one player.
“But of course what we want, what I want as manager, is not (just) using him, but for himself.
“They are football players, they are professionals. When they are out for a long time it’s a disaster for them, mentally so tough.
“In that case he played 90 minutes and now we are going to see what’s going to happen.”