Football News

“We spotted something yesterday” – John Stones lifts lid on Man City routine after Liverpool draw

By Mohamed Moallim

Published: 21:00, 10 March 2024

Manchester City defender-cum-midfielder John Stones was happy to see a training-ground routine come off in their 1-1 draw with Liverpool.

Pep Guardiola’s men broke the deadlock at Anfield in the 23rd minute when Stones converted a Kevin De Bruyne corner. His opener was the first set-piece goal City has scored from the Merseyside ground in the Premier League since November 2011 (Vincent Kompany from a corner). Each of their previous 15 goals at Liverpool in the competition had been netted from open play.

It was a controversial effort as the build-up contained some contentious elements. Liverpool had nobody guarding their posts, with Alexis Mac Allister tasked with protecting that space. Nathan Ake successfully blocked the path of the World Cup winner, but Stones took advantage of an unconcentrated Darwin Nunez to slot in an accurate ball from the Belgian playmaker.

Stones, who netted his first of the season, duly credited first-team assistant coach Carlos Vicens after the match when asked about the goal on Sky Sports television. “We’ve worked hard on it all week. We spotted something yesterday, worked on it, and it came off.”

Vicens, known to be responsible for some of City’s more intricate set-piece plans alongside team analyst Jack Wilson, was promoted to City’s first-team coaching staff in 2021, and his contribution was immediately evident. In the following campaign, Pep Guardiola’s side scored 22 goals from set pieces and only conceded one in the Premier League—an Opta record in terms of differential.

To pull off what they did, they required a brilliant set-piece provider, which De Bruyne certainly is. He was consequently showered with praise.

“That looked like genius from Kevin De Bruyne,” Sky Sports colour commentator Gary Neville said. “How has he spotted that run from John Stones? It is something they have worked on; things like that don’t just happen. What a man to execute it.”

Jamie Carragher identified where Liverpool could have improved but credited De Bruyne. He said: “I think it’s more down to De Bruyne’s quality than a Liverpool mistake.

“I think Mac Allister must be more aggressive at that front post. It’s obvious Ake is trying to move him for a reason, and it’s just too easy. It’s something Man City have worked on clearly, a nice finish by Stones, but as I said, it’s more highlighting Man City’s quality than a Liverpool error.”

De Bruyne has subsequently assisted seven goals against Liverpool in the Premier League, with only Ryan Giggs (8) assisting more goals against the Reds in the competition. Indeed, only Andrew Cole (14) and Giggs (12) have more combined goals and assists against Liverpool in the Premier League than De Bruyne (11 – four goals and seven assists).

“There are not many players in the world who could do what he’s done with that pass,” Roy Keane added. “To deliver that and get that accuracy and speed, brilliant. They’d worked on the movement, a little bit of blocking, but the delivery was absolutely fantastic.”