JOHN STONES is “offended” at how England’s defenders have been made the scapegoats for recent poor form.
The Manchester City centre-back is likely to partner Manchester United captain Harry Maguire at the heart of the defense against Iran in Monday’s opener in Qatar.
England’s defense has been portrayed as a weak link as the Three Lions chase their first major trophy since 1966.
But Stones hit back, saying: “I’m a little offended, to be fair. Maybe considering that some players don’t play that regularly or maybe got injured.
“Sometimes we forget what players have done in the past – and what they have done in big game scenarios – and focus on the negative.
“You don’t lose quality or class and great players come out, which is what we’ve done as an England squad for the last five years, particularly at the last World Cup and European Championships.”
Maguire took the stick from his own fans, club and country, about his form. He was an unused sub in United’s 2-1 win at Fulham on Sunday but has recently shown signs of regaining his confidence.
Former England stars Alan Shearer and Rio Ferdinand described the defense as a problem area for the team.
England reached the final of last year’s Covid-delayed Euro 2020 on the foundation of a solid defense before an agonizing penalty shoot-out loss to Italy.
Stones took solace from that heartbreak by turning to his personal accomplishments – conceding just two open-game goals against some of the world’s best teams is a remarkable statistic.
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All the more surprising when, barely 16 months later, his partnership with Maguire and England’s full-backs is being called into question.
From a team built on reliable defenders to the Achilles heel of a country’s hopes of winning the World Cup. No wonder the Manchester City centre-back is hurt.
Since that ultimately disappointing night in July last year, Stones have won their fourth Premier League title – with his side conceding just 26 goals in the process.
Now he’s focused on his international dreams, where the pressure is even greater than at one of the richest clubs in the world.
No wins in six games for England makes for an understandable scrutiny of a back line that was so mean last summer but has conceded eight goals in their last three games.
Stones is not blind to the problems and the numbers and admits England defenders need to regain the spirit of last summer.
With 59 caps, he’s also experienced enough to know that the eve of football’s biggest tournament isn’t a time to panic.
Stones, 28, said: “We don’t focus on the outside noise, we focus on what we can do and improve on and focus on our strengths.
“We have to go into this in a positive way and try to find the spark that we had in the last few tournaments.
“Euro 2020 was an incredible tournament from that perspective, not conceding a goal.
“And you’ll have heard it for years, but the top teams that are successful stay clean in tournaments – that’s the fundamental platform for your team.
“We definitely have to find that, whoever plays in defence.
“We had something that you can’t teach or train. We were just on the same page with our mentality. I’m looking forward to it and I’m confident that we will do it again.
“We’re on the same page as Bobby Moore when it comes to most clean sheets in a tournament.
“I was very proud when I heard that and it’s something that will stay with me until it breaks – hopefully this tournament.
“I just want to highlight that last year in England at such a big tournament we created such a platform, and all that that entails.”
It seems everyone has an opinion on England’s defense – few politely.
Maguire’s approval rating among fans of his club and country is probably the lowest, yet he was voted by Uefa into their team of the tournament at Euro 2020.
It seems on paper that the back three, four or whatever England boss Gareth Southgate comes up with is an accident waiting to happen.
Stones said: “They have that opinion of recent games and results, which is right, and everyone is entitled to their opinion.
“Now it’s time to recreate some of the great memories we’ve made over the last few years, especially from big games – and make them change their minds.”
*JOHN STONES spoke at the launch of the first-ever winter wave of McDonald’s Fun Football Sessions with over 10,000 hours of free football training for 5-11 year olds across the UK over the next two months – see mcdonalds.co.uk/football for more information
https://www.the-sun.com/sport/6676697/john-stones-england-harry-maguire-world-cup-2022/ ‘Offended’ John Stones slams critics of England defense and insists Harry Maguire & Co are NOT a weak link at World Cup 2022