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Gareth Southgate defends John Stones decision as Manchester City injury setback revealed ahead of Arsenal clash



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England manager Gareth Southgate has defended his decision to start John Stones against Belgium in an international friendly on Tuesday evening.

The Manchester City defender became the latest in a growing list of Pep Guardiola’s first-team stars to succumb to a fitness problem and cut short his involvement in international action with their country.

It follows a hamstring issue sustained by Kyle Walker in England’s meeting with Brazil last weekend, and Manuel Akanji and Matheus Nunes’ respective knocks, while deeper assessments into all the issues are expected with City’s medical department on Wednesday.

However, while there has been widespread frustration – particularly amongst Manchester City fans – over the handling of John Stones’ game time during the ongoing international break, those feelings will not be helped by the England boss’ feeling on the situation.

Speaking to the media after England’s 2-2 draw with Belgium, Gareth Southgate defended his decision to start John Stones in successive matches, pointing towards other examples of Premier League stars playing for their nation’s twice.

“No (it wasn’t a risk to play him). The first game (against Brazil) for him wasn’t a game that was a high level in terms of intensity,” Southgate explained. “We’ve done exactly what Holland did with Virgil van Dijk tonight, what Norway did with Erling Haaland and Martin Odegaard, starting both games.”

The England manager continued, “Holland also started Nathan Ake again. It only ever seems to fall on us when there’s a question about that. But of course, we’re disappointed if he’s got a problem. It’s in the adductor area.

“He came in on the back of not having played for two weeks so it wasn’t an overload issue. But I hate sending players back to their clubs if they’re not fully fit.”

The severity of John Stones’ problem remains to be seen, however deeper assessments will be made this week at the City Football Academy, while Pep Guardiola will offer a wide-ranging update on the fitness of his squad during his media address on Friday afternoon.

Manchester City welcome Arsenal to the Etihad Stadium in their return to action on Sunday evening in a battle between two Premier League title challengers hoping to stake even more of a serious claim for the top-flight crown this season.