John Stones says a dream to reach 50 caps for England helped him return to form in the last 18 months after finding himself out of favour at Manchester City.

Stones’ struggles at City in 2020 were well documented, with the centre-back so badly out of form that Fernandinho was preferred in defence by Pep Guardiola. When Ruben Dias arrived at the Etihad, Stones faced another obstacle to regular football, having lost his England place at the same time.

However, Stones fought back to become Dias’ first choice partner, and he has won his way back into Gareth Southgate’s plans as a result, playing a key role in last summer’s run to the Euro 2020 final.

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Stones helped City to a fourth Premier League title in five years this season, and is looking to finish the campaign strongly with England in the Nations League. He could win his 57th cap against Germany on Tuesday, but the centre-back admits doubt crept in during a 16-month gap between his 39th and 40th caps at the height of his City struggles.

“I had a dream as a kid, trying to get 50 caps for England and I have made that come true but I didn’t think I would,” Stones said.

“I was not playing and I never thought I would get that opportunity again. I was not playing at City and you have to be playing and playing well to get called up. I did not know if I would get called back up and I used that as a kind of motivation to get back and it was big. It wasn’t switching mentality, but realising what I can do and what I should be doing to be here.

“I think the 50-cap [dream] was when I made my debut for England. I never thought that would happen but you set yourself a target and it rolls on. That big setback, I thought ‘is it going to happen again?’

“You do doubt yourself. Everyone doubts themselves in certain situations when things are not going well. I had to get out of that mentality and try and get back so when I made it made it even more special. I would have given everything to be back and I used that as motivation.

“You set yourself a target [50 caps] and it rolls on. What is the next target? I’ve read this book on mentality and it says not to cap yourself off at a target. Your target should be to get as many as you can.”

With Stones back to his best at City, he also offered a reflection of the Blues’ Premier League title win that came after a crushing Champions League semi-final defeat to Real Madrid — one that came after his rushed return from injury in the second leg backfired.

He explained: “I wasn’t fully ready for the first leg against Madrid. We made the decision together [to start at the Bernabeu], we knew the risks and it was frustrating [to go off injured]. But coming back for the last game was great. What an ending to the season.

“It was difficult going out of the Champions League. We’ve not had many big setbacks like that to deal with and it made our mentality even stronger to go and win the Premier League. We left it late – that’s all I can say.”

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