John Stones admitted he had to go back to basics to regain Pep Guardiola’s faith after scoring twice as Manchester City thrashed Crystal Palace 4-0 on Sunday.
City’s charge up the table has taken them into second in the Premier League, just two points behind leaders Manchester United with a game in hand to come.
Stones’s partnership with Ruben Dias has been pivotal to 12 clean sheets in a 15-game unbeaten run and the England defender also delivered his first two Premier League goals for the club after five seasons in Manchester.
“Keeping these clean sheets is massive. It’s a platform for the lads to go and express themselves up front,” said Stones.
“We are taking great pride in keeping clean sheets and hopefully we can keep the run going.”
The signings of Dias and Nathan Ake during the summer transfer window could have signalled the end of Stones’s time at the Etihad after he struggled for game time even when Guardiola was short on centre-back options last season following the departure of Vincent Kompany and a long-term injury to Aymeric Laporte.
“It’s always tough when you are not playing and you don’t perform as you can because you put too much pressure on yourself,” added Stones.
“I went back to the basics, looked at myself first and looked at what I can improve on in every aspect.”
Guardiola hailed the impact Dias has had on his centre-back partner and is relieved that the defensive deficencies that ruined his side’s title defence last season appear to have been ironed out.
“We don’t make mistakes. In the past, especially last season we made a lot of mistakes. This season if the opponent scores a goal, ok, but we make them do it.
“They give us this confidence that we can score a goal and we don’t concede. Today we didn’t concede one shot on target and that is fundamental to our game
“Ruben helped us a lot and John, alongside Ruben, grew up.”
City took full advantage of dropped points for both their biggest title challengers after United and Liverpool played out a disappointing 0-0 draw earlier on Sunday.
Despite not hitting the heights of back-to-back league titles under Guardiola between 2017 and 2019, City have now won their last eight games in all competitions.
Kevin De Bruyne registered his 100th City assist with the outside of his right foot for Stones to nod home from close range to open the scoring on 26 minutes.
Palace had taken four points from their last two trips to the Etihad, but without the injured Wilfried Zaha offered barely any attacking threat as the Eagles remain 13th in the table.
With Gabriel Jesus and Raheem Sterling short on goals and Sergio Aguero absent after coming into close contact with a positive coronavirus case, Ilkay Gundogan’s goalscoring form of late has been a major factor in City’s revival.
The German midfielder curled home his fourth goal in seven games into the top corner 11 minutes into the second-half to end any doubt over the outcome.
Stones then swept home his second of the night on the rebound after Vicente Guaita saved from Dias’s initial powerful header.
Guardiola could then afford the luxury of handing De Bruyne and Gundogan a rare rest for the final 20 minutes ahead of Aston Villa’s visit in midweek.
Sterling blazed a penalty over the bar late on in Wednesday’s 1-0 win over Brighton when handed the responsibility by De Bruyne.
With the Belgian off the field, Sterling got another chance from a set-piece outside the box and this time curled a brilliant free-kick into the top corner two minutes from time to round off a perfect day for City.