SportsGuardiola reinvents Miguel Angel Nadal with John Stones

    Guardiola reinvents Miguel Angel Nadal with John Stones

    Pep Guardiola has discovered a new creature. Accustomed to the exotic creations of the Manchester City coach, in England they assure that it is a “hybrid”, as if Guardiola were a Frankenstein alienated from the lab. The novelty points to the metamorphosis of John Stones.

    Defender of all his life, Stones has mutated into the figure that occupies the axis of the defense when the team loses the ball and is transformed into a multipurpose midfielder when it attacks, even producing the most subtle combinations in the reduced spaces of the front of the court. opponent area. As an Arsenal analyst recently pointed out: “It’s a copy of what Cruyff did in the toughest games: Koeman is Dias; Akanji is Ferrer; Walker is Sergi; and Stones is Miguel Angel Nadal going up with Guillermo Amor ahead of Guardiola”.

    After playing tennis quite successfully, the uncle of the best Spanish tennis player in history forged himself as a footballer. He was a pivot in Mallorca. This is how Cruyff signed him for Barca, in 1991. “We were in preseason,” recalls Nadal; “And since Koeman joined later because he had played in the Euro, one day Cruyff put me as a central defender. We didn’t talk about it, nor did he tell me ‘you’re going to play center back’. He put me there and alternated midfield with central defense What Stones does is similar. Like Cruyff, what Guardiola is mainly looking for is superiority in midfield”.

    Guardiola, like Cruyff, look for superiority in the center of the field

    Miguel Angel Nadal

    Domènec Torrent, Guardiola’s assistant at Barca, Bayern and City, adds a nuance. “Cruyff did the hybrid but in reverse: Nadal started as a pivot and got between the central defenders. The first time we saw the reverse move was against Valerenga.” On July 29, 2010 in Oslo, during a friendly with Barca in preseason, Guardiola was dazzled by the maneuvers made by the Valerenga center-back, the Norwegian international Stefan Strandberg, who would break away and go into the interior to attack. For days, he pondered the invention of his counterpart, Martin Andersen, the Valerenga coach, former Blackburn and Molde midfielder.

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    Andersen, just 46 years old, left the bench in 2016. But his occurrence survived in Guardiola’s test tube. On March 1, against Liverpool in the Premier, Stones began to break away from Dias to organize City’s attack. The result was splendid: 4-1. Witnesses to Stones’ evolution were not surprised. Before signing him for 55 million euros in 2016, at the age of 22, by order of Guardiola, the City coaches had studied him at Everton, where Roberto Martinez used him as a winger. His progress with the ball down the Liverpool team band was extraordinary. He was astonished by his solvency in all spaces and by radiating a certain impression of arrogance. “It seemed that he overreacted,” said Juanma Lillo, Guardiola’s assistant; “But he didn’t overreact!”

    Lean, light, strong and fast at the same time, Stones is ahead of Rodri in one thing: he uses less energy to move. But his great virtue is innate. He has such wide peripheral vision that he dares to ask for the ball in front of his goalkeeper, as if the pressure of the attackers who harass him from behind did not cause him the fear that this situation usually unleashes in many professionals. As Guardiola said years ago in a famous press conference: “Stones has more balls than everyone in this room; That’s why I’m delighted with him.”

    He seems shy. But he was always a nice and daring Englishman. Of great personality. “He is the first to start dancing when the team is partying,” recalls a colleague. His self-confidence accelerated his maturation. He had a daughter with his girlfriend of 12 years, Millie Savage, and their separation and the ensuing court battle over custody of the girl erupted into a soap opera-tinged scandal that was exploited to the fullest by the tabloids. On the way to the 2021 Champions League final, after completing a magnificent season with Ruben Dias, he fell into a depressive well. When Porto’s match against Chelsea arrived, he had just gone through months of interrupted activity and emotional upheavals. The defeat marked him as one of the players who strayed the furthest from his performance base. Two years later, he has regenerated to emerge as one of the essential figures for the balance of the most overwhelming team in the Champions League that concludes on Saturday.

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    “To do what John does, you just have to find the position to receive and pass the ball,” Guardiola explained at Wembley, after winning the Cup against United, last Saturday, when asked about the defender’s adaptation to the game. in 360 degrees. “We want to have more passes and more control. Nothing more than that.”

    There are more and more centers like this. Those center backs could also play as pivots in the dynamic game

    Andoni Zubizarreta

    “It is much more problematic to advance the position than to delay it”, observes Miguel Angel Nadal. “It’s easier to adjust to going back because the whole game is facing you. The further you go, you have to be aware of more areas. The visual part, the angles, increase. I would have liked to play my career as a midfielder, but when I was at Barcelona I went through different areas and I discovered that the place I liked the least was the bench. I said to myself: ‘I’m going to try to adapt!’ In Manchester, in a Champions League tie, I played in midfield, I was central and I exchanged with Koeman who went to midfield ”.

    Andoni Zubizarreta, Barca de Cruyff goalkeeper, remembers the figure of the free ahead: “Cruyff used Nadal as a center back next to Koeman, and sometimes ahead of Pep, when the opposing teams were physically much superior. He put it inside, like a eight, for the arrival from the second line, or to crash more. Now, the Stones thing is the story backwards. For many years we have been looking for central defenders with a good footing to be able to get the ball out. There are more and more centers like this. Those center backs could also play as pivots in the dynamic game. I put in a center back and then in defensive positions if my outside players go higher this serves me as a free ahead close the line of the rival striker”.

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    “Inter have good bosses,” Guardiola declared on Tuesday, by way of praise for his rival in the Champions League final that awaits him in Istanbul. The term patterns —Patron, in Spanish— echoes in Guardiola’s language with the frequency that a tailor, a mathematician or a sociologist would use it. The patterns of behavior, the models of plays, the repeated movements to the point of automation, accumulate by the hundreds in the head of the coach, obsessed with manipulating football as if it were a mechanical device since he witnessed the kaleidoscopic inventions of Johan Cruyff as a player.

    John Stones has refined the model. more than of release In advance, the Englishman acts as setter of the game in an area that is especially sensitive to rival counterattacks. His security with the ball, as well as his reactivity when he loses it to cut passing lanes, elevated him as a key player in the semifinals with Madrid. Next Saturday in Istanbul, he will enter the domain of the wizard Brozovic to try to catch the long-awaited Champions League for Manchester City.

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