Watford - Everton - Pre-Match Analysis: Rock solid Stones?

John Stones has been tipped by many pundits to be Roy Hodgson's first choice centre-back at Euro 2016, but has his form this season been worthy of such credentials?

Watford - Everton - Pre-Match Analysis: Rock solid Stones?
It has not been the happiest of seasons for defender Stones (photo: Express)

With just one goal scored less than Arsenal, finding the back of the net has certainly not been a problem for Everton this season.

Instead, their shortcomings have been at the back, with a defensive record that compares to Swansea City and Crystal Palace and one that has cost them a spot in Europe.

The same player that was hounded by Chelsea?

John Stones was widely regarded as the lynchpin of Roberto Martinez's defence before the season started. Everton fought tooth and nail to keep their young talent away from the billions of Chelsea for at least another year and the fact that Jose Mourinho attempted on at least three occasions to prize him away proves the ability the youngster has.

Yet, Stones and his Everton colleagues have experienced a difficult campaign. A modern day centre-back who enjoys bringing the ball out of defence like Gerard Pique at Barcelona, Stones has sometimes been guilty of overplaying and losing possession in key areas.

His development in this area will come with experience, although he lacks a similar player to mould himself upon at Everton. His lack of recent form has seen Martinez drop him in previous weeks, although he did return against Manchester United last weekend.

A lack of match awareness

Stones still needs to work on his match awareness. He has not been in the correct position often enough this season, making just 1.6 tackles per game and finding himself behind colleagues Gareth Barry, James McCarthy, Ramiro Funes Mori and Phil Jagielka in this department.

With 1.7 interceptions per game 1.6 headers and 3.3 clearances, Stones finds himself a long way behind his two central defensive partners in these key areas too. Yet, when the England international does position himself correctly he is a tough man to beat, dribbled past just once every two games by opposing attackers.

If Stones ever needed to be tested on his credentials as a ball playing centre-back, one of his opponents on Saturday will certainly turn up the heat. Watford captain Troy Deeney will chase down every lost cause and will not allow Stones any time to bring the ball forward and contemplate his next move.

Stones cannot shoulder all of the blame for a disappointing season, with the majority of players under-achieving. Tim Howard has been dropped in goal, whilst Leighton Baines has fallen down the England pecking order. However, the worry for Roy Hodgson ahead of this summer's Euros is that two of his four main centre-backs have been part of such a leaky Everton defence.

Stones has been guilty of overplaying at times this season, which has led to him being dispossessed in dangerous positions. (Photo: Getty)
Stones has been guilty of overplaying at times this season, which has led to him being dispossessed in dangerous positions. (Photo: Getty)

Can Watford test a shaky Everton backline and keep out the deadline attacking trio?

The problem for Watford on Saturday is that they struggle to score goals. With just 30 goals this season and only one in their last five Premier League matches, they will need to up their game to test the Everton defence.

Odion Ighalo is on a terrible run of form, with just one goal in his last 10 matches, culminating in him being substituted early in the second half against Arsenal last weekend, yet the Nigerian has shouldered much of the goalscoring responsibility for the Hornets with 50% of their goals.

If Watford are to test Everton defensively, midfield players such as Nordin Amrabat, Etienne Capoue and Mario Suarez will be tasked with getting much further forward to support the strikers. Watford barely broke out of their own half last weekend and will be outnumbered by an Everton formation that sets up with two defensive midfielders if they repeat the same conservative approach.

On the back of conceding four at the Emirates, the Hornets' shaky defence will have to be wary of a triumvirate of Everton attackers that can hold their heads high this season.

Ross Barkley has been exciting in his real breakthrough season and Watford will have to plug the gaps between their midfield and defence to deprive him of space. Meanwhile, Nathan Ake had a torrid time against Alexis Sanchez last weekend and will have to be on his toes against Gerard Deulofeu. The Barcelona product has assisted six goals for the league's third top goal-scorer Romelu Lukaku this season.