Pep Guardiola says he will sit down with John Stones at the end of the season to discuss the England defender’s future at Manchester City.
The City manager will hand Stones his first start for more than four months against Newcastle United on Wednesday night.
Guardiola said in 2018 that as long as he was at City, “Stones will be with us”, but the 26-year-old could be one of the casualties of a planned summer rebuild as the manager targets a new centre-half to help address the club’s defensive issues.
Stones has two years left on the £180,000-a-week, six-year contract he signed when he joined City from Everton for £50 million in 2016 and has been linked with a return to the Merseyside club. Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur are also likely to be in the market for a central defender in the transfer window.
Since playing a key role in City’s first Premier League title win under Guardiola, Stones’s career has been blighted by injury, poor form and off-field issues and the manager admitted the defender’s confidence had suffered as a consequence as he prepares to hold talks with him over his future.
Stones has started just 14 matches all season and fallen to fifth in the pecking order, behind Aymeric Laporte, Eric García, Fernandinho and Nicolas Otamendi, who could also be sold this summer. Kalidou Koulibaly, of Napoli, Bournemouth centre-half Nathan Ake, Ruben Dias of Benfica, below, and Villarreal’s Pau Torres are among the centre-halves City have scouted.
“On the transfer market we speak at the end of the season,” said Guardiola, who confirmed Stones would start against Newcastle. “I’ve said many times I’m more than delighted with John as a person, as a pro, everything. We’ll speak at the end of the season about what is going to happen.
“Sometimes my wish is not the wish of the players, or the wish of the situation for the club. If we have to change, we’ll talk to them. He’s a young player and we want him to be consistent, to train and recover. There are players who can play every three days for 11 months, others who struggle more to be fit and we try to find the key to them playing every three days. What we want for his future and for ours is for him to come back and play and to be able to play two, three, four months with no injuries. It’s difficult for a player and for all of us.
“The quality of John is there, I never doubted it for one second, it’s just when you don’t play, you are rotated and injured again. And injured again. He must play for himself and focus.”
Meanwhile, Guardiola has warned his squad that they can forget about winning the FA Cup and Champions League unless they rediscover their killer instinct after falling to a ninth league defeat of the campaign on Sunday, 1-0 against Southampton. City had 26 shots and Guardiola believes there have been too many games where his side have not been clinical enough and punished for their profligacy.
“If we can play like we play and we are consistent in both boxes, we will have a big chance to go through to the final of the FA Cup and the quarter-finals of the Champions League,” he said. “But if it happens like it did against Southampton, Tottenham at home and away and Norwich away, we will be out [of the FA Cup] and Arsenal will be in the final and Madrid will go through [from their Champions League round-of-16 tie]. This is the reality we have to accept.”