John Stones could be the surprise long-term answer to England’s central midfield troubles, writes Andy Dunn in Paris.
Gareth Southgate highlighted the dearth of options in that area after Eric Dier and Jake Livermore had to be paired together against Scotland last Saturday.
His concerns are so strong that he has tried Stones in midfield on the practice pitch and believes he can fulfil that role even though the Manchester City’s £47.5million man has been a defender all his career.
Stones will start at centre-half on Tuesday night but Southgate is bullish about the surprise idea of the 23-year-old operating further forward.
The England manager explained: “John has all the attributes and capabilities to play as a holding midfield player.
“He obviously hasn’t done that yet, really, so that’s a decision we have to make but do I believe he can play that role? Absolutely.
“We had a look at it in training last week, in fact. I also think we want defenders who can bring the ball out and show composure. I think he could do either of those jobs.”
Ahead of his big-money move to the Etihad, Stones was spoken of as a future England captain but his first season under Pep Guardiola has not gone smoothly.
There were a series of high-profile mistakes, injury and he finished the season on the bench.
Southgate, though, thinks Stones will benefit of his rollercoaster campaign, saying: “John has huge potential. He’ll be a much better player for his experiences at City this year.
“Defending is a skill you learn and he’ll learn a lot with a coach asking a lot of him with the ball.
“He knows the belief we have in him as a player. Next season, at club level, he’ll be much stronger for what he’s been through.
“There are things you have to take on board … the move, being at a club where so much is expected of him every week, the transfer fee, everything surrounding it and he’s become a father.
“There is a lot going on in his life. He’ll be a much better player for those experiences.”