John Stones says City-Liverpool clash is ‘important’ but title not resting on it

Champions City lead Liverpool by just one point heading into the meeting at the Etihad Stadium

John Stones is avoiding the hype surrounding Manchester City’s clash with Liverpool (Isaac Parkin/PA)

By Andy Hampson, PA

John Stones admits a lot rests on Manchester City’s clash with title rivals Liverpool on Sunday but does not see it as a decider for the Premier League crown.

The City defender intends to cut himself off from the hype surrounding the eagerly-anticipated clash because he already knows just how important it is.

Full attention now turns to that game after City took care of business in the first leg of their Champions League quarter-final against Atletico Madrid on Tuesday by grinding out a hard-fought 1-0 win.

We know what is riding on this game and how important it is to us

John Stones

Champions City lead Liverpool, who have won their last 10 Premier League games, by just one point heading into the meeting at the Etihad Stadium.

Stones said: “We don’t get sucked into all the outside noise and concentrate on what we do. All the time I’ve been here we’ve been very focused and tunnel vision on what’s ahead of us.

“We’re human beings and we know what is riding on this game and how important it is to us, but every game this season has been a final to us so we don’t approach this any differently.

“There’s obviously that extra buzz about the game and what it means, but it is just another game. It doesn’t necessarily mean what will end up by the end of the season.

“I don’t think about it too much like that because you can get carried away. Obviously it’s an important game, we’re first and second in the table – everyone knows that – but we have to concentrate on us and how we play our football and don’t change our football.”

City now turn their attention to Liverpool after a goal from Kevin De Bruyne (centre) earned them victory over Atletico Madrid (Tim Goode/PA)

City have acquired plenty of trophy-winning experience in recent seasons and triumphed in a similarly tight title race in 2019, when they won their last 14 games to pip Liverpool by a single point.

Stones feels that gives them knowledge they can draw upon to good effect now.

The 27-year-old said: “This week is vital for us in how we prepare, and we stay calm about that because we’ve been in situations like this before.

“Three years ago it came down to the last game, so we’ve been in these situations before and the experience of that time we definitely learned from.”

Sunday’s game is treble-chasing City’s second of four matches in an intense two-week spell that could make or break their campaign. It is followed by the second leg against Atletico in the Spanish capital next Wednesday and then another high-profile meeting with Liverpool, in the FA Cup semi-finals, the weekend after.

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Stones said: “As players you want to be in these big games. There’s a big few months ahead, there’s a lot to fight for and it’s where we want to be, so we’re excited.”

City had to dig deep to claim their first-leg advantage against Atletico as the Spanish champions sat back and frustrated their hosts.

It took the 68th-minute introduction of Phil Foden to open up the game as the England youngster almost immediately teed up Kevin De Bruyne for the only goal of a tense night.

“We knew what we were up against and how they’d set up and try to frustrate the game,” said Stones.

“It is always difficult when a team does that but I thought how we moved the ball and kept our patience during the game was key.

“We prepared well for how they’d play but it was about implementing it and I thought we did that really well.”

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