Guardiola makes feelings clear on Stones

Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City moved another step closer to retaining their Premier League title by deploying four centre-backs in a defence not including John Stones.

The £100million signing Jack Grealish, who was out ill, has made only 10 league starts this season. And their worst player on the pitch at Craven Cottage was 25-goal Erling Haaland who missed two clear chances.

But it did not matter when £77m defender Josko Gvardiol netted twice. The only doubt during this one-sided encounter was who was going to take the injury-time penalty converted by Julian Alvarez for the final goal.

The Premier League’s claim to be the most competitive in the world took more time off to enjoy the sun down by the Thames. And the biggest question after the FA Cup finalists’ seventh consecutive Premier League win by at least two goals is: How long will their domestic domination continue?

On recent evidence, only the departure of Guardiola when his contract expires next summer – or if City are found guilty of breaking PSR rules – can stop the World Club Champions at home.

The case of Stones shows how strong they are. He is the best English centre-back and essential if the Three Lions are to get close to winning Euro 2024.

For City he has been on the bench for six of the last seven and has not started in the Premier League for a month. Stones did not even come off the bench when Nathan Ake went off injured.

At least he will be rested for Germany.

“He is really ok,” said Guardiola. “Sometimes the players make a step up, the other ones.

“Mateo (Kovacic) is playing unbelievable now, Nathan (Ake) was unbelievable as well. That is why also. When you play games in that position.

“Jack last season played a lot. This season he plays less. And in this team, you have to perform consistently well, well, well many, many times. I know their qualities.”

The Catalan’s ability to refresh his squad every season ensures his players don’t get old together as young blood is injected. The three goalscorers at Fulham – Gvardiol, Foden and Alvarez – are 22, 23 and 24.

The Croatian defender started slowly in the Premier League career but has had the time to adapt.

“When you talk about football and all life, life is about confidence,” said Guardiola. “He has come here for many, many years and he is proving to himself that he can do it and play with us. He wants to be better and better, and when that happens you have something special.” – Mirror.

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