Were Chelsea they lucky to miss out on Stones?
Chelsea’s current troubles are well documented if not easily explainable, but amongst the doctors, red cards, stadium bans, and, of course, the losses, the failure to buy John Stones from Everton in the summer has been largely forgotten. With Ivanovic looking the most exposed he ever has and Mourinho dropping Terry earlier in the season apparently because he wanted to play a higher line, a young, talented, and positionally flexible addition to the squad could have been ideal.
Stones is clearly more suited to a higher defensive line than Terry, and the current captain’s speed and fitness situation in his later years is possibly hindering Chelsea at the moment. Against Liverpool, even in possession, both Chelsea central midfielders Ramires and John Obi Mikel were very deep, almost acting, positionally, as a pair of slightly advanced central defenders. In possession, this took two men out of their attack, making it hard for them to penetrate a well-drilled Liverpool; out of possession their unnecessary depth at times gave their opponents too much space in midfield.
Stones is also genuinely good, especially for his age. He’s by no means perfect, but his tackling is generally very well-timed, his positioning and awareness is good, and he’s also vocal and intelligent enough to help direct the defensive structure around him. Having not only developed at a good club in the modern age, but also under Roberto Martinez, he’s very comfortable on the ball and is also fairly good with it, able to thread passes through the opposition midfield to teammates.
There’s also the combination of Chelsea’s lack of (realistic, not including the bizarre signings of Djilibodji and Hector) depth at the back and the quality of Kurt Zouma. Zouma has the laconic bounce-step of a triple-jumper starting their run-up having been trained by Dimitar Berbatov, which can make him an important half-second too slow in reacting to situations or changing directions, though his speed and timing of tackle can often save him from this. However, Stones’ upper limits of quality are probably higher than Zouma’s, and it would not be a surprise if this was the opinion of Chelsea as well.
However, Stones’ game is not complete. He was pulled any which way Giroud wanted him when the two sides played earlier in the month, and he seems to have a bit of an immature tendency to go to ground whenever he thinks an opponent is about to pull the trigger. His wanderings from the traditional positionings of centre-back may be an instruction from his manager, but also seem to represent the wandering mind of youth. The rumoured £40m price tag was largely, as with all young players, based on his perceived potential, not just his current ability.
With the various negatives already going on at the club, would it have been a good idea, in retrospect, to add a young defender with a big price tag into the mix? Liverpool saw this in a slightly different situation with Lovren (largely mentally, I believe, which I have written about here: http://everyteamneedsaron.com/2015/08/07/does-dejan-deserve-his-rep/). A tough start can be hard to overcome, particularly in an underperforming side. It’s a big ‘what if?’, but would the signing of Stones have been a benefit to the defensive system or just another stick to beat Mourinho with?
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