John Stones is celebrating the clean sheets at Manchester City as if they were goals.
City have caught the eye in recent weeks with their free-scoring antics, picking up big wins against Liverpool, Feyenoord, Watford and Crystal Palace.
Yet the work at the opposite end of the field has also been important to City’s success, with Tuesday’s 2-0 Champions League win over Shakhtar Donetsk representing their fifth clean sheet in six games.
Centre-back Stones, who scored two goals himself in the opening Group F win at Feyenoord a fortnight ago, said: “I’m trying to work hard at my game in training, to enjoy my football.
“It always helps when we’re winning and scoring goals and keeping clean sheets. From my perspective, and for the back four and the keeper, keeping clean sheets has been a big target and we’ve been defensively solid in the Premier League and Champions League.
“It’s about carrying that on now. It’s a big thing for me and it’s as satisfying as the boys up the top scoring.”
City found the going tough against Ukrainian champions Shakhtar, who stifled their hosts at the Etihad Stadium and attacked with confidence.
Kevin De Bruyne eventually eased the tension with a fine strike after 48 minutes and City became more assertive in the second half.
Sergio Aguero missed a penalty that would have seen him equal the club’s goalscoring record of 177 but Raheem Sterling, after spurning a gilt-edged chance himself, wrapped up victory late on.
The win put City clear at the top of the group with a maximum six points, three ahead of both Shakhtar and Napoli, the Italians who visit Manchester next month.
Stones said: “We knew they were a good team. We did our research on them and we knew they could play out from the back. They’re one of the first teams that have come to the Etihad and played like that.
“I thought our high pressing was brilliant and we stopped them getting out, which is credit to the boys up top. We knew they were a great side and we showed them a lot of respect.
“Maybe it could have been five or six nil, but we’ll take a 1-0 or 2-0. A win’s a win, however the ball goes in the net, and keeping clean sheets is vital.”
Midfielder Fabian Delph impressed alongside Stones in the back four, filling in as a makeshift left-back in the absence of the injured Benjamin Mendy.
Stones said: “He was brilliant. His attitude has been great. Obviously, it’s not his position but he’s just got on with it and done a brilliant job there and absolute credit to him.”