And Why He Could Spell The End Of Phil Jagielka’s England Career
Forget Joel Robles v Tim Howard. There’s a bigger debate to be had involving two Everton players – and it affects England too.
EVERTONIANS have been asked to vote in a poll this week on whether Howard should be recalled against Chelsea despite Robles having just kept three clean sheets in a row.
But if anyone is responsible for those, it’s not Everton’s understudy keeper. It’s Stones.
The return of the 20-year-old from injury has brought a renewed sense of composure and control to the Blues.
Part of that may be down to Roberto Martinez switching to a much more pragmatic, defensive set-up, which in the Mersey derby included playing three holding midfielders.
But don’t underestimate the importance of Stones to this team.
Without him they lost 2-0 to Hull, 3-0 to Southampton. Looking further back, he didn’t play in the 3-2 loss at Newcastle or the 6-3 debacle at home to Chelsea either.
Since his return from injury Everton haven’t conceded more than a goal in a single Premier League game – and that was against champions Manchester City.
It’s hard to make a case for anyone being more important to the team at the moment. Romelu Lukaku is the only one who comes close.
I would argue Stones is even more important because he allows Everton to play the way Martinez wants.
He is so comfortable on the ball, so positive in possession, and so willing to step out and commit people, that he gets the team playing.
Many of Lukaku’s best chances lately have come from moves started by Stones – including his winning goal at Crystal Palace.
But this is where it gets interesting. Not only has Stones been Everton’s best defender going forward. He’s been the team’s best defender as well.
He reads the game better than any other centre-half at Goodison, his first touch is better, and he is quicker than any of his defensive partners as well.
That pace means he is quicker to recover if he is caught out, and doesn’t need to risk diving into an early tackle.
Back in September he was immense at Anfield, with Jamie Carragher describing him as the best player on the pitch that day. Neville Southall has since called for him to be given the captain’s armband.
It may be too soon for that, but many seasoned Blues fans will tell you he has been out-performing his skipper all season – and it’s become even more apparent in recent matches.
Look at their stats from the derby.
Both of them made two interceptions, both of them blocked two shots. Jagielka had one more tackle, and made three more clearances. But his passing accuracy was 93% compared to 96.2% for Stones.
In terms of passing it’s a similar pattern if you widen it out over the whole season.
You could say there’s not much between them – and you’d be right. But it wasn’t Jagielka striding forward again and again in the last five minutes to turn defence into attack against Liverpool. It was Stones.
He has an assurance about him which is remarkable considering he is only 20 – a full 12 years younger than Jagielka.
He isn’t perfect. He doesn’t win enough headers, he can be out-muscled too easily, and he sometimes takes one risk too many.
He’s made mistakes this season. But Jagielka’s, uncharacteristic though they seem, have been worse, and he just doesn’t have the pace, touch or vision of his younger team-mate.
Everton have only lost three times all season with Stones playing.
They’ve only conceded more than two goals in a game once with him in the team, against Crystal Palace back in September.
So if you had to choose one of them to play for England against Lithuania and Italy next month, which one would it be?
Jagielka has been a marvellous servant to his country. Under Fabio Capello he was England’s most reliable defender. But he’s 32. He won’t go to the next World Cup.
There is no convincing argument for sticking with him if he is barring the way for Stones.
The 20-year-old started against Switzerland in September, and played well. But at right back. What a waste!
Even Phil Jones started ahead of him at centre back. But Jones is now out of the picture, and Gary Cahill is no longer even a guaranteed starter for Chelsea after a series of horror shows.
There are other fine young centre-backs emerging, including Arsenal’s Calum Chambers and Tottenham’s Eric Dier, who spent half a season playing on loan for Everton’s U18s in 2011.
They’re all promising players. But none of them deserves a place in the England team as much as Stones – and if that has to come at the expense of Jagielka, then so be it.
This is his time.