Just when you think things can’t get any better at centre back along comes an accomplished 20 year old to disrupt the undisruptable. This time last year you would know that Phil Jagielka and Sylvain Distin were the first choice pairing in the centre of the Everton defence. Yes Antolin Alcaraz had come in but was obviously back-up, and as it turned out, injury prone. Not much was expected of John Stones.
Fast forward twelve months and Stones is a full England international, on standby for the World Cup in Brazil no less, he’s just signed a new and improved five year contract, and is a genuine contender to play in the opening game against Leicester City. And if he does you wouldn’t bet against him staying there for the season. Comfortable on the ball, a nice turn of pace for recovery, and learning all the time, it’s difficult to remember he’s still just a prospect.
In his way though are two experienced Premier League players. Phil Jagielka has been a rock for Everton ever since David Moyes stopped playing him in midfield and at right back, and he’s now first choice in the England team. With over 200 appearances in blue he’s captain and almost indispensable. Alongside him is the time defying man mountain Sylvain Distin. Naturally left footed, with pace to burn – even at 36 – and as fit as at 21, Distin was a bargain short term signing in 2009. Yes, five years ago.
Not forgetting of course the fit again (for now) Alcaraz and the back from loan (for now) Shane Duffy. Whilst neither are pushing for a regular start the sheer number of games the club will be involved in means there will need to be depth.
Although any discussion about competition for places and choice between Jagielka, Distin, and Stones might be mute. Roberto Martinez toyed with three at the back in games last year and has used the approach again in preseason, albeit sparingly. He now has the personnel to use this formation more often but the truth is that the team haven’t looked comfortable when taking it on and both Jagielka and Distin are more suited to playing with fullbacks.
Whatever the manager chooses to do he has the players to make it work. A little patience from fans and a little practice from those on the pitch might see Seamus Coleman and Leighton Baines be even more of an attacking threat in 2014/15.