Gareth Southgate has challenged John Stones to prove he is back to his best — by taming the Liverpool attack that is threatening to strip the Premier League title away from Manchester City .

The England boss will be at Anfield today to see if Stones can recapture the form that made him such a star for both club and country.

Injuries and a loss of form have hit the £50million defender hard over the course of the last year and there are fears at the Etihad that his ­confidence has been dented further by issues in the 25-year-old’s private life.

City boss Pep Guardiola will ask Stones to handle the fearsome threat of Mo Salah, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino in a bid to prevent Liverpool going nine points clear at the top just 12 games into the season.

And Southgate can’t wait as he prepares for England’s final two Euro qualifiers against Montenegro at Wembley on Thursday night and Kosovo in Pristina on Sunday.

John Stones has suffered injuries and a loss of form of late

Southgate said: “We know the quality John has.

“He played such an important part in our run to the World Cup semi-final and a couple of matches on the way to the Nations League.

“But then he had a really difficult period at the end of last season and the beginning of this season in terms of injuries.

“I think this is a very important spell for him with his club.

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Gareth Southgate is looking forward to seeing how Stones responds to a tough test on Sunday

“Clearly, there’s always competition for places at a club like Manchester City and if you can establish yourself there, then you’re in a good place to be and in good form when you come with us.

“As I say, in the games that he’s played in so far he’s looked absolutely fine.

“But he plays for a team that are not always tested without the ball – and I think that this Sunday they certainly will be.”

Stones hardly featured for City last season as they closed in on a domestic treble, with Guardiola putting his faith in Vincent Kompany and Aymeric Laporte.

Pep Guardiola has preferred to use Fernandinho over John Stones at centre-half this season

Kompany has since left the club, while Laporte will be sidelined for much of the season after suffering a cruciate injury. Yet Guardiola has sometimes preferred to use midfielder Fernandinho as a centre-back.

Stones and club team-mate Kyle Walker made errors as England lost to Holland in the Nations League in the summer. Walker has been left out of the Three Lions’ last three squads, while Stones has only just earned a recall.

Southgate said: “I think John is a brave player and I think that mistake would have been something he was able to get over pretty quickly.

“It’s more important to me how he’s playing at that moment for his club.

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Southgate consoles Stones during England’s Nations League defeat to Holland

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“I think I said after the Holland game, when I didn’t play him the game after, that I felt he wanted to be in a confident place when he next played for England.

“If he can come through this weekend strongly, then that’s where he will be, I would think.”

Stones has replaced Michael Keane in England’s squad as Southgate got ruthless in the aftermath of the Everton defender’s poor display in the defeat by Czech Republic last month.





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