Scouting Barcelona Transfer Target John Stones

Rik Sharma@@riksharma_Featured ColumnistJanuary 12, 2016

Everton's John Stones, left, fights for the ball against Tottenham's Son Heung-Min during the English Premier League soccer match between Everton and Tottenham at Goodison Park Stadium, Liverpool, England, Sunday Jan. 3,  2016. (AP Photo/Jon Super)
Jon Super/Associated Press

Not a lot of English players make it to Spain and fewer succeed after arrival. That doesn't stop some of the Premier League’s finest being linked to La Liga though, and the latest is Everton centre-back John Stones.

Several sources say the 21-year-old has attracted the interest of the current champions of Europe, Barcelona.

Stones has been rumoured to be on Barcelona's list of targets for a few months but a new batch of links started recently, with John Richardson of the Sunday Express claiming an exclusive.

And the Catalan club's fans would welcome him to the Camp Nou, according to a poll in Sport (h/t the MailOnline).

Jon Super/Associated Press

"Ahead of their 4-0 thrashing of Real Madrid on the weekend, Spanish daily newspaper Sport ran a poll asking fans what they thought of Stones," wrote Matt Maltby.

"Almost 75 per cent of supporters who voted said they would like to see the promising 21-year-old join their defensive ranks."

Intriguingly, Gerard Pique named Stones in his dream team during an interview with Jason Burt of the Telegraph, prompting people to wonder if this was the start of a big effort to lure him to Catalonia.

Pique said: "I think John Stones is a really, really, good player. He will have a good career."

Assuming Barcelona's interest in the Englishman is real, the discussion should turn to whether Stones would fit in the team, with the squad and the style of the club.

Barcelona's defender Gerard Pique (R) vies with Granada's midfielder Ruben Perez (L) during the Spanish league football match FC Barcelona vs Granada CF at the Camp Nou stadium in Barcelona on January 9, 2016.   AFP PHOTO / LLUIS GENE / AFP / LLUIS GENE
LLUIS GENE/Getty Images

Furthermore, how likely it is Barcelona could pry him from Everton and how much it would set them back?

Barcelona have plenty of centre-backs at the moment. Pique is the one, undroppable figure, rested on occasion but a guaranteed starter in the big games.

Alongside him is usually Javier Mascherano, but Marc Bartra, Thomas Vermaelen and Jeremy Mathieu are all waiting in reserve.

It's the Belgian who currently seems like the stand-in of choice, and deservedly so, having played well in the appearances he has been given.

Mathieu has moved down the pecking order since last season, with the Frenchman picked less often and in less important clashes.

Bartra, meanwhile, has barely been used at all. He has played just 320 minutes for Barcelona in La Liga this season, with only Adriano playing less from the players who haven't been injured or unavailable until January.

Marc Bartra Aregall of FC Barcelona during the UEFA Champions League match between Bayer 04 Leverkusen and FC Barcelona on December 9, 2015 at the BayArena in Leverkusen, Germany.(Photo by VI Images via Getty Images)
VI-Images/Getty Images

It's quite possible he could be sold, or at least loaned out to get more first-team football, leaving an opening in the squad. Per Sport, Sevilla are interested.

Furthermore, Mascherano will be 32 come next season, and you would expect him to feature less, if he isn't also sold in the summer.

That would really open things up for Stones, should Barcelona move to bring him to the Camp Nou from Goodison Park.

Pique has grown into the sort of player that could educate a player like Stones, while the experienced duo of Mathieu and Vermaelen would be there to provide back-up and security.

BARCELONA, SPAIN - JANUARY 06: Javier Mascherano (14) of FC Barcelona argues with Pau Lopez of Espanyol during the Copa del Rey Round of 16 match between FC Barcelona and Real CD Espanyol at Camp Nou on January 6, 2016 in Barcelona, Spain. (Photo by Manue
Manuel Queimadelos Alonso/Getty Images

But what is it about Stones that makes Barcelona think he will fit the club? It's less about his defensive work than it is his transition play.

Stones is not a bad defender, per se. But he still has a lot further to go in that department.

Everton are 11th in the Premier League table and a big problem has been their defence. They have scored more goals than any team bar the top three, but they have the worst number of goals conceded of any side in the top 13.

That's not Stones' fault, but the youngster is capable of making a glaring error now and again.

He is, however, extremely comfortable on the ball and that's what they want in the Catalan capitalsomeone who doesn't panic and can help build attacks starting from the back.

Even as a youngster at Barnsley, Stones preferred to play the ball out, instead of just kicking or hacking it to safety. It got him noticed almost immediately and Everton moved for him in January 2013, with the player only making his debut the year before in March.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 28: Marko Arnautovic of Stoke City is fouled by John Stones of Everton resulting in the penalty during the Barclays Premier League match between Everton and Stoke City at Goodison Park on December 28, 2015 in Liverpool, Engla
Dave Thompson/Getty Images

He cost £3 million, signed by David Moyes, although current manager Roberto Martinez was a big fan and tried to bring him to Wigan Athletic at the time too.

It was eventually under the Spaniard that he made his Everton debut, with Martinez taking over the following summer.

Things have flown by for Stones ever since, with Roy Hodgson handing him his first England cap in a friendly against Peru before the 2014 World Cup.

Steven Pienaar explained what he brings the team, as reported by the Daily Mail.

He said:

Stonesy is totally different compared to other English central defenders. He's more of a ball player who is really comfortable in possession.

It suits the manager and it's good for the team. I can understand why England put their hopes on him. He's certainly got a bright future and he's got a good head on his shoulders.

I hope to see many more years of him playing at the top level for Everton and his country.

And Pienaar's explanation also highlights the same qualities which have Barcelona keeping tabs on the star.

When compared to arguably the best defender of the season in England, Laurent Koscielny, Stones has impressed in the categories which will interest Barcelona.

According to Squawka statistics, he has a 90 per cent pass-completion rate, bettering the Arsenal man's 88 per cent, he has won more aerial duels and more tackles per game on average.

Arsenal's French defender Laurent Koscielny (L) vies with Sunderland's English striker Duncan Watmore (R) during the English FA Cup third-round football match between Arsenal and Sunderland at the Emirates Stadium in London on January 9, 2016.   AFP PHOTO
GLYN KIRK/Getty Images

Stones is more willing to take the opposition on, successfully doing so an average of 0.94 times a game, compared to Koscielny's 0.24.

Using the same website to compare his statistics to those of Pique, the pass completion is equal, at 90 per cent, although the Spaniard makes more per game, as you would expect.

There are potential downsides to signing Stones, though. For one, it seems to be hard for English footballers to settle away from home.

Two, he will cost a lot of money. Per the Daily Mail, Everton rejected several summer bids of over £30 million from Chelsea, so he will not come cheap. Of course, if Barcelona raise money by selling one or even two of their other centre-backs, that will be less problematic.

Although Jose Mourinho has left Stamford Bridge, the Blues may move for Stones again in the summer with renewed vigour, meaning Barcelona could face a fight to sign him.

BOURNEMOUTH, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 28:  Ross Barkley (L) of Everton celebrates scoring his team's third goal with his team mate John Stones (R) during the Barclays Premier League match between A.F.C. Bournemouth and Everton at Vitality Stadium on November 28
Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

A third issue is his relative inexperience. He has 106 appearances as a professional footballer, with just 63 in the Premier League. It will be hard for him to step into a team that is so dominant, all the while adjusting to a new culture, new league and new dynamics.

Signing Stones would be a gamble and one which may not be necessary, given there are options within La Liga who have proved their quality time and again. Athletic Club’s Aymeric Laporte is one of them.

However, the Basque side are usually not amenable to selling their players, and it may transpire that Stones is the more viable option.

Either way, whatever happens in the summer should be interesting, and whether or not he comes to Barcelona, Stones has a big future.