Wednesday 27 July 2016 10:45 pm

Pep Guardiola closes in on defender as Manchester City open talks with Everton over John Stones

Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City moved a step closer to swelling their defensive ranks after opening talks with Premier League rivals Everton over the transfer of centre-half John Stones.

While a fee for the England international is yet to be agreed, it is believed that Everton value the 22-year-old, who was a target for Chelsea last summer, at around £50m in the current transfer market.

City face Borussia Dortmund in a pre-season friendly in Shenzhen today, and while Guardiola did not mention Stones by name during his pre-match press conference, he spoke of his determination to secure a ball-playing central defender.

“Normally central defenders are strong in the air and aggressive,” said former Barcelona and Bayern Munich boss Guardiola. “But we need to have a good build-up to create easy passes in the midfield so they can create good passes for the strikers.

“I believe when the ball goes from the central defender to the striker as quickly as possible, it comes as quickly as possible back. That is why the players in that area need quality. By 31 August we will have the right squad to play how we want.”

City’s defensive reserves have come under sharp focus since skipper Vincent Kompany was ruled out of the early stages of the season with a thigh injury.

Guardiola was famed for converting midfielders such as Javier Mascherano and Javi Martinez into defenders during his time in Spain and Germany and has not ruled out adopting a similar tactic in England.

“Fernandinho can play in 10 different positions because he has the quality to play wherever,” added Guardiola. “He is quick, aggressive, intelligent and strong in the air.

“He has the quality to create good build-up play and can play a forward pass, so I think he has the quality to play there (centre-half).”

Bournemouth, meanwhile, completed their sixth transfer of a busy close season after luring Australia full-back Brad Smith from Liverpool for a fee in the region of £3m. Forward Marko Arnautovic has signed a new four-year contract with Stoke City.