Everton have taken another step to ensuring their future lies in the hands of talented youngsters and the upward progression under manager Roberto Martinez can continue, with the news that one of their key players for the season ahead has signed a new contract.
While still an inexperienced player, Stones has already shown his great talent in the top flight and will be a core part of the side over the coming seasons. As a result, Everton look ever more ready to challenge for European places.
No Premier League defender under the age of 22 blocked more shots than John Stones last season (19). pic.twitter.com/q7W9LC2lGO— Squawka Football (@Squawka) August 7, 2014
Everton and England
Stones played 21 times in the Premier League last season, mainly at right-back but also in the centre later on in the campaign, where he notably excelled.
Tall, confident on the ball and with good acceleration from a starting position, Stones has shown an aptitude for defending aggressively and pre-empting danger. He was part of the side that kept five clean sheets in nine games heading toward the end of the campaign.
His form was enough to earn a first England call-up ahead of the 2014 World Cup—only as a stand-by for the full 23-man squad but still sufficient to see him involved and winning his first senior caps.
Going forward, he may still get game time at full-back, but his best position is clearly as a central defender. Roberto Martinez will doubtless look to get him involved there whenever possible.
Everton ended up fifth last season after fighting right until the final weeks of the campaign for a Champions League-place finish. It was impressive, considering the sides they finished ahead of and beat over the course of the campaign, but Everton's problem previously had been maintaining such good form into consecutive seasons of football.
This summer they have managed to keep their squad together completely; on-loan performers Gareth Barry and Romelu Lukaku have now joined on permanent deals, while Muhamed Besic has been added in midfield. From last term's first-team squad, only Gerard Deulofeu, now back at Barcelona, will not be at Goodison Park for 2014-15.
The appeal of Martinez and his style of football, confidence and ambition are all big pulls once more for the club. At the same time, keeping their younger stars tied down to long contracts, like Stones, safeguards both their on-pitch improvement and their future market value.
With Martinez, Barkley, Coleman, Baines & now Stones locked down as well as Lukaku, Besic & Barry in, #EFC are looking in very decent shape.— Richard Buxton (@RichardBuxton_) August 7, 2014
Can Everton achieve fifth place once more? A look at the squads of the top sides would likely suggest not—but the same could have been said last season.
Where will Everton finish in 14-15?
Manchester United won't be as poor as they were last year, while Spurs are expected to come strong once more. That doesn't necessarily imply they will immediately leapfrog Everton, who are looking for their own improvements too, but it does indicate that it will take an almighty effort for the Toffees to secure a top-six finish once more.
Add the Europa League into the equation and Martinez's likely willingness to challenge for domestic cup success if possible, and Everton have a packed season ahead that will require all of their key players to step up.
They have youth, ability and belief stacked throughout the side, though. In addition, as the contract extension of John Stones shows, they have ambition to push on from last season's success and build toward Martinez's promise of an eventual Champions League appearance.