Despite Jose Mourinho saying Chelsea have not yet made an improved bid for Everton centre-back John Stones, the Blues are still expected to pursue their interest in the England international.
It’s reported the Toffees would demand upwards of £30million for their prized young asset, potentially making him the most expensive English centre-back of all time. While the responsibility to fulfil the homegrown quota is undoubtedly a factor in both Chelsea’s interest and Stones’ price tag, it’s worth comparing the youngster’s performances with centre-backs of a similar age across the continent to gauge whether he’s worth the hype.
Last season WhoScored.com ranked Stones as the fourth best player aged 21 or under in the Premier League, behind only Kane, Sterling and Bellerin, with a rating of 7.17.
Chelsea’s interest makes a great deal of sense, therefore. John Terry is now 34, while it’s Gary Cahill’s form that was more concerning for the champions last season, and it’s reasonable to suggest that the Everton man would have a decent chance of slotting straight into the side. With Kurt Zouma also impressing when called upon, garnering a rating of 7.03 when just factoring in his seven league starts, the pairing could represent the long-term future of Chelsea’s backline.
Despite being considered one of the new kids on the block, Stones’ two main statistical strengths of ‘passing’ and ‘blocking the ball’ would certainly help to ease Terry’s eventual departure. The Chelsea captain was one of only two defenders – along with Martin Skrtel – to secure a superior pass accuracy than the 21-year old last season, with a near identical 89.6% edging Stones’ 89.5%. The duo averaged the exact same number of aerial duels won per game (2.6), while Stones was on hand to block 1.1 shots per game to Terry’s 0.9.
The similarities between the two certainly justify Chelsea’s considerable interest in the young England international, but are there better alternatives out there?
A look at the stats suggests the answer to that question is ‘no’. Only two centre-backs under the age of 23 record a higher WhoScored.com rating in Europe’s top five leagues last season, with Atletico Madrid’s Jose Gimenez top of the pile.
At 7.52 the Uruguayan’s rating was a significant advance but, although the same could be said for Stones, he is likely to prove an indispensable asset to the former La Liga champions. The 20-year old’s rapid progression has forced former mainstay Miranda to move on, breaking a partnership with Diego Godin that was key to their unexpected success both in Spain and the Champions League in 2013-14.
Gimenez relies more on his impressive physical attributes compared to Stones’ more technical, composed approach. The 20-year old won 3.4 aerial duels per game last season, with impressive averages of 2.1 tackles and 2.7 interceptions per game. A modest pass accuracy of 78.3%, however, indicates that the South American adopts more of a no-nonsense approach to defending.
The only other centre-back to make more than 20 appearances last season and earn a higher rating than Stones was Athletic Bilbao’s Aymeric Laporte. His score of 7.19 was very similar to the Everton man, and while he is again more of a proactive defender, averaging 1.9 tackles and an outstanding 3.7 interceptions per game, a tendency to make rash tackles comes with the territory of such a style. The 21-year old averaged 1.2 fouls and amassed 10 yellow cards last season. In comparison Stones picked up just one caution and committed a remarkably low six fouls from 23 appearances.
The player directly below Stones in the rankings, and marginally so at 7.16, is certainly an interesting one. Raphael Varane has been earmarked as arguably the brightest young centre-back in Europe, and it’s worth noting that his rating when excluding six substitute appearances in La Liga was at a mightily impressive 7.40 from 21 starts. Varane is a similar style of centre-back to Stones, and though an upgrade, he too would likely cost well in excess of £30million.
The France international secured a pass accuracy of 89% last season, won 2.8 aerial duels per game and averaged two interceptions per match. He, like Stones, is also more measured in the tackle, committing just 0.4 fouls per game for a solitary caution in the league last season.
Given that Mourinho has already been credited with a long-standing interest in the 22-year old, Real Madrid’s reluctance to sell a player tipped to be a first team regular next season has arguably led to Chelsea’s interest in Stones and, in truth, they’d do well to find a better alternative to the Frenchman.
Stones’ performances last season showed great maturity, and it’s a strength that Chelsea are right to admire. Given that all of the aforementioned young centre-backs would likely command a similar fee, it could certainly be argued that the Blues should indeed increase their offer for the Englishman, and they are expected to do just that.
All statistics courtesy of WhoScored.com, where you can find more stats, including live in-game data and unique player and team ratings. You can follow all the scores, statistics, live player and team ratings with their new free-to-download iOS and Android app.