Neil Humphreys: Blues worth rolling with Stones
Chelsea can lift Manchester City defender's flagging career
John Stones must join Chelsea. Anyone with even a passing interest in the game should also hope that the forgotten defender signs for the Blues.
Stones can still play. He can dazzle better than any other English centre-back when mind and body are in-sync.
He makes too many mistakes in such a pivotal position, but his once-prized gifts are so rare that he's worth the gamble.
An elegant, ball-playing English centre-back was already a dying breed when Stones joined Manchester City in 2016.
Now he seems extinct.
Stones' successor, for the Three Lions at least, is Harry Maguire. For England, Maguire is a no-frills stopper, very much the boy next door. For Manchester United, he often looks like a boy trying to break into the house next door.
He's jittery. He fumbles. And yet, he's the best around, thanks to Stones' unexpected loss of form and confidence.
Natural ability was the obvious difference between the two.
When Stones was winning titles with Pep Guardiola's City and guiding England towards the 2018 World Cup semi-final, his lineage looked impeccable.
There were echoes of Rio Ferdinand's grace on the ball and Bobby Moore's knack of reading the pass before lunging in.
The kid had class. Two years ago, Guardiola insisted that as long as he was manager, Stones would be regularly involved at the Etihad outfit.
Last weekend, City defeated Real Madrid 2-1 (4-2 on aggregate) in the second leg of their last-16 Champions League clash and Stones never left the bench.
In the previous season, the centre-back did not feature in a single minute of his club's four knockout ties in Europe.
The 26-year-old has won the English Premier League twice, the League Cup thrice and the FA Cup once, but his manager no longer trusts him in the most important assignments.
Stones should be reaching his playing peak, but appears in decline at City. The 35-year-old Fernandinho took his place against Real. New signing Nathan Ake is expected to take his place permanently.
Unless Stones secures a new challenge at Stamford Bridge, his elite career looks as good as over, which would be an unjust end for a unique act.
Stones' high-wire routine has always relied on the safety net of confidence. His margin for error is a matter of millimetres, the distance on his boots between a Hollywood pass and a scuffed clearance.
He'll attempt a risky through-ball rather than find row Z, simply because he can.
But his blessing became a curse. Back in November 2018, he was dominating Manchester Derbies and achieving the highest pass completion rate of any player in any position in the EPL.
Stones pinged passes in a Guardiola line-up that played high and fast. When he got it right, the end result was as pleasing on the eye as it was effective.
When he got it wrong, opponents often scored, as if there was no middle ground between perfection and pantomime.
Stones doesn't man-mark as well as Maguire, but the United centre-back cannot pass or read the game like his Three Lions colleague.
But Maguire wields the no-nonsense mental strength of a burly artisan, whereas Stones seems lumbered with the brittleness of a tender artist.
Guardiola has probably indulged his flaky defender for long enough. A clean break would benefit both parties.
Of course, Frank Lampard's Chelsea are no strangers to erratic centre-backs, with Antonio Ruediger last seen in a different stratosphere in the FA Cup final. He was dropped for last week's Champions League last-16 tie against Bayern Munich, but the Blues still conceded four times.
Andreas Christensen and Kurt Zouma struggled throughout. Along with Ruediger and Fikayo Tomori, all four centre-backs face uncertain futures.
The Blues shipped 54 goals in the recently concluded EPL season, the same number as Brighton, who finished 15th.
Against Arsenal and Bayern, Chelsea's biggest flaw revealed itself. Like the men in the crow's nest of the Titanic, they do not see what's coming. They fail to sense danger until it's too late.
A confident, assured Stones reads the game better and represents a low-risk option. If Lampard scours the open market, he'll never find a 26-year-old bargain like the unwanted City centre-back.
Stones has notched up 85 Premier League games and 19 Champions League matches with City and is reportedly available for £20 million (S$35.8m).
Lampard has nothing to lose and might just gain the most gifted English centre-back of his generation, if Stones is given the time and opportunity to reinvent himself.
His talent should not fade away, drifting from one bench to another as an unlucky run with injuries threatens to shatter his confidence altogether.
It can't be all over, not yet. Stones' story deserves a second act.