Sep 072014

One is seen as the stuffy old-timer who is stubbornly set in the past.

The other is the forward-thinking young buck with optimism and charisma oozing out of every pore.

Yet this week, Roy Hodgson and Roberto Martinez have shared very similar problems.

And, after agonising over their defensive headaches, they may well be both looking at the same solution.

Such is the remarkable rise of 20-year-old defender John Stones that landmarks and milestones have come zipping along at a rate of knots.

However – and starting tomorrow night in Basel as England (Free £25 bet offer) Kick-off their Euro 2016 qualifying campaign against Switzerland – Stones could well be beginning the biggest week in his career.

England team group (top row left to right) Daniel Sturridge, Phil Jones, Joe Hart, Gary Cahill, John Stones and Jordan Henderson. (bottom row left to right) Wayne Rooney, Raheem Sterling, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Leighton Baines and Jack Wilshere before the International Friendly at Wembley Stadium England team group (top row left to right) Daniel Sturridge, Phil Jones, Joe Hart, Gary Cahill, John Stones and Jordan Henderson. (bottom row left to right) Wayne Rooney, Raheem Sterling, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Leighton Baines and Jack Wilshere before the International Friendly at Wembley Stadium  

England, in the continuing post-mortem of their disastrous World Cup campaign, are in need of reshaping their defence.

Stones was on the stand-by list for Brazil but injuries, poor form and international retirements have fast-tracked his promotion into the first-team picture.

After three caps and around 120 minutes of game time for the Three Lions, the Blues defender will be asked to help keep Switzerland at bay in a game that England can ill-afford to lose given the lingering apathy towards them.

And just over four days later, Stones could be asked to help rescue an under-fire Everton defence – one Martinez says is gripped by “fear”.

For a backline that was the Premier League’s third meanest last season, conceding 10 goals in the opening three games of the new campaign amounts to something resembling a crisis.

The Blues conceded late against Leicester City, late against Arsenal and then at all times of the game against Chelsea.

Martinez refused to single out individuals in the wake of their 6-3 defeat last weekend but warned that “nobody was guaranteed their place.”

The uncomfortable conclusion that many Evertonians have come to is that Phil Jagielka could need to be taken out of the firing line.

And if Wednesday night’s team selection against Norway is anything to go by, then Hodgson looks to concur with such thinking.

Manchester United’s Phil Jones played alongside Gary Cahill in the heart of England’s defence against an unadventurous Norway at Wembley while Jagielka was a late replacement in the capital.

England's John Stones England’s John Stones  

For the first time in his career, the Blues captain has come into a season on the back of a major international tournament.

Talk of his demise is premature – and ultimately rubbish – but there’s little doubt he looks is struggling to recapture his very best form.

Enter Stones.

For England, he will play at right-back in the absence of Glen Johnson and a host of injured and lacking alternatives.

But for Everton, it looks as though he could be thrust into the heart of a quivering defence.

Martinez, for sure, still has some thinking to do ahead of the trip to the Hawthorns and nothing is set in stone although he has certainly hinted at changes.

But is Stones ready to assume such a burden?

Is this precociously talented young defender able to shoulder such responsibility? All eyes will be on Everton’s defence on Saturday afternoon. The laid-back Stones is unfazed by anything and will relish the challenge.

His grace on the ball is an essential trait of the modern defender and can provide relief and direction.

But, as Everton fans will profess, his surfeit of confidence can sometimes be his undoing.

Twice in pre-season Stones was caught on the ball and Everton were punished.

They are sure to have been moments from which he has learnt, of course, and his performance for England in midweek was composed and steady and thankfully void of those nerve-shredding moments of risk.

Martinez yesterday spoke of Stones being a “natural” at right-back and he did not look out of place.

But Stones is not an electric-paced attacking full-back in, say, the Seamus Coleman mode and there are sometimes concerns over this slender frame going up against some of the most powerful of attackers.

The Everton boss would counter that by rightly pointing to Stones’ deceptive pace and reading of the game.

Martinez, if England boss, would have no doubt about picking for the entire qualification campaign.

Hodgson, whether by design or by fault, looks certain to select him for the opening – and most difficult – game, at least.

And does the Blues manager follow suit?

The lingering question over the summer was whether Stones or Jagielka would start alongside Sylvain Distin for Everton.

Stones had made 26 appearances last term and with an assurance beyond his years, filled the void left by an injured skipper.

Now, the circumstances of his return to central defence are all together different.

For Martinez, the decision now is more significant than it was ahead of the Premier League curtain raiser against Leicester.

Is Stones ready?

At this moment, is he even the answer to Everton’s problems?

And does Jagielka need the backing of his boss?

Back Martinez to make the right call, of course, but has there been a tougher call to make his reign at Goodison?

It’s doubtful.

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