For all his grace on the ball, Everton centre-half John Stones has been found wanting in the less glamorous aspects of defending. What the boy desperately requires is guidance.
This is where Chelsea’s incoming Italian manager could be the perfect mentor at the ideal time in the young defender’s career.
Off the back of a nightmare Merseyside derby performance, it’s emerged that Antonio Conte is unperturbed by Stones’ decaying form.
Conte still wants Stones at Stamford Bridge
The Mirror report that Jose Mourinho’s permanent successor is intent on reviving Chelsea’s attempts to sign the England international as a matter of priority.
Despite tabling a succession of hefty bids for the 21-year-old’s services in July and August 2015, the outgoing champions failed to prise Stones away from Goodison Park.
If Everton’s resolve can be broken a year down the line, and it’s still a big if, then Conte is a far more suitable candidate to help the Barnsley youth fulfil his promise than Roberto Martinez.
Going backwards under Martinez
For all Martinez’s lauding of his talented pupil, Stones’ own decline is symptomatic of a wider defensive malaise in the Everton rearguard under the Spaniard’s watch this term.
Conte, meanwhile, marched former club Juventus to three successive Serie A crowns (2011/12, ‘12/’13 and ‘14/’15) using the platform of a watertight defence on each occasion.
The highest number of goals the Old Lady conceded in any one of those glorious campaigns was 24.
Conte obviously values the art of defending
That famed Italian ethos of defending was masterfully implemented by the current Azzurri coach, albeit he was blessed with some pretty handy exponents in the shape of centre-halves Giorgio Chiellini, Leonardo Bonucci and Andrea Barzagli.
This trio are still the mainstay of Juve’s 2015/16 edition, soon to be crowned champions again barring a minor miracle, and unsurprisingly Conte’s Italy team as well.
Another bonus to Stones’ potential development at Stamford Bridge is Conte’s history of deploying 3-5-2, which has even been labelled as a 5-3-2 at times.
Virtues of 3-5-2
Utilising Stones on the right of a back three may just be his best position. He will still have to master the art of defending and all the gritty elements that go with it, such as positional awareness, tackling and aerial duelling.
However, when is possession, adopting a slightly wider starting position beyond the width of the 18-yard box would potentially help cut out the sorts of critical errors which have dented his reputation as the season’s unfolded.
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