JOHN STONES will be handed a final chance to save his Manchester City career this month – starting against Newcastle on Wednesday.
The England defender has endured a nightmare 18 months for both club and country, much to the frustration of Pep Guardiola.
And the Etihad chief revealed he plans to sit-down with Stones at the end of the season to see where they go from here.
During his time on the sidelines, Spanish teen Eric Garcia, 19, has stepped up and impressed Guardiola alongside first-choice centre-back Aymeric Laporte.
Guardiola has made a new defensive leader his top priority this summer with Napoli’s Kalidou Koulibaly among the names on his wanted list.
Nicolas Otamendi and Fernandinho will still be at the club next season, meaning chances for Stones could be limited.
The City boss has not completely written off his £47million signing just yet, but made it clear time is running out.
Guardiola said: “On Wednesday he is going to play.
“Of course, what we want – for his future and for ours – is for him to come back and play and to be able to play two, three four months with no injuries.
“He’s struggled with injuries, he’s come back after one year off and then lockdown and he needs more time.
“That’s why these last games it’s Eric and Aymeric. We needed rhythm. Eric especially doesn’t make mistakes and that’s what we want.
“What we want is the best for him. For ten days or two weeks, his training and his behaviour is good and we are happy for him to start on Wednesday.
“I’ve said many times I’m more than delighted with John as a person, as a professional, everything.
“But regarding the transfer market, we speak at the end of the season.”
Less than two years ago, Guardiola said: “As long as I am in Manchester, John Stones will be with us.”
But it is starting to look ominous for the former Everton man.
Stones and Laporte were a formidable partnership at the heart of City’s defence until the beginning of last year.
But Guardiola restored former skipper Vincent Kompany to the line-up as City swept to a domestic treble in the spring.
Stones had a torrid time with England at the Nations League finals and then struggled to get fit and prove he can fill the boots of Kompany.
Tonight will be only his 15th start in all competitions this season and Guardiola said: “John’s a young player and we want him to be consistent, to train and recover.
“There are players who can play every three days for 11 months, others struggle more to be fit and we try to find the key to playing every three days. This is what we want.
“The quality of John is there, never doubt it for one second. It’s just when you don’t play, you’re rotated and injured again.
“Players are good when they play in a routine, they are confident.
“He must play for himself and focus. He will not be judged for bad actions or bad moments.”