Why Everton Should Be Building Their Defence Around John Stones
There's no question about it, Everton's biggest problem this season has been in the defence. Most notably in the pair of old men in the middle of it. With a combined age of over 65 years it would seem that Phil Jagielka and Sylvain Distin are finally starting to feel the effects of time. Even though Distin especially has had a Benjamin Button-esque attitude to the whole situation of age, conceding 10 goals in three games isn't really acceptable and points to a need to bring in young blood to the centre back partnership.
And who might that young blood be, you ask? Well, its quite obviously John Stones. The youngster had been used by England and Everton as a right back before the West Brom game this season, but with his first game at centre back nicely coming at the same time as the first clean sheet, it is time for him to start regularly in the middle.
Stones is not only needed because of his youth. He also fits in to Roberto Martinez's style far better than Jagielka or Distin. He is much better with the ball at his feet than the pair, who do seem to have never quite understood that the ball does not have a highly infectious disease and doesn't need to be gotten rid of at the first opportunity. They have always had a tendency to hoof and ask questions later when pushed, seemingly a hangover from some the more agricultural early years of Moyes' tenure. In comparison Stones brings an assurance and air of calmness to the defence when on the ball.
However, we have always known he was better at this. The real problem has always been his naivety when defending. Seen in the forgotten 4-1 loss at the Emirates last season and in the 4-0 loss at Anfield that we wish we could forget, there was a tendency to stray too far forward and get caught out on the break, as well as sometimes trying to take players on when in his own final third. The confidence is admirable, but the brains behind it are not. Now that Jagielka and Distin are also letting silly mistakes in to their games the argument to keep Stones out for this reason falls apart. They might as well have a youngster who might learn from mistakes instead of a veteran who most likely won't. The fact that the first clean sheet of the season came when Stones first started at centre back doesn't hurt either.
The only question now is who do you drop to bring the guy in. Club captain Jagielka, the younger of the current two centre backs, but also the one who has made the most mistakes ao far, seemingly not being abke to get over letting Suarez past him in the World Cup. Or the seemingly ageless Distin, who has made less mistakes but is also 36 years old. Although he does seem like a fine wine, getting better with age. Against West Brom it was Distin who took the fall, but this was due to an injury, not a long term choice. With several other potential captains in the team, e.g. Baines, Barry, and Howard, dropping Jagielka's mistakes would seem to make him the most likely to go. Pairing Distin's left foot with Stones' right also makes sense tactics wise. With the extra Europa League games and the Reserve Team Cup coming up its not like Phil needs to be completely frozen out, but maybe just taken out of the firing line in the league.
The attacking half of the pitch has been brilliant this season, averaging over two goals a game. With a record like that anything is possible with even a slightly dodgy defence. However the defending in the first three games wasn't even close to that. The best thing to come from the West Brom game may not have been the first three points of the season, but actually in the going centre back who came in and shored things up. John Stones could be the new rock of Everton's defence for the next decade, starting now. That is, if no one nicks him off us in a couple of years.