Too soon to give up on Lescott

Posted by David Mooney

The date is Tuesday Sep. 18, 2012. I, David James Mooney, am driving home from work early, ready to watch Manchester City's debut in the Champions League for the 2012/13 season, and I tune into the radio to catch Roberto Mancini's team news. And there it is. Wham! The gut feeling that the trip to Real Madrid is going to end in disaster -- there's a debut at centre-back for an untried, untested, 19-year-old Serbian defender named Matija Nastasic.

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Fast-forward to the end of the 2012-13 campaign and young Nastasic appeared to have settled well into the left centre-half slot. His relationship with captain Vincent Kompany was blossoming, until the Belgian suffered a long list of injury problems as the calendar flicked over to 2013.

And in the midst of it all, it seemed like Joleon Lescott's days in blue were numbered.

Despite having been a mainstay in the Premier League's best defence for two seasons running, suddenly Lescott had slipped down the pecking order; the performances of Nastasic were keeping him out of the team. City had unearthed a gem and, while there were still some edges that needed smoothing out, Nastasic had shown plenty of signs of quality.

He continued his progress this season until injury forced Nastasic off at half-time in last week's 6-0 drubbing of Tottenham. The same injury meant that Manuel Pellegrini had to make one change for Sunday's 3-0 win over Swansea, bringing in Lescott to deputise.

However, Man City's number six had other ideas. He wasn't there to just fill in until the first choice defender was back fit. Lescott was there to stake a claim for the position and to put himself into contention for keeping the Serbian out of the team. Pellegrini claimed at the start of his reign that he picked players on form and not reputation -- something he's proved by keeping Costel Pantilimon between the sticks instead of the out-of-sorts Joe Hart -- so if Lescott can keep up the level of performance he put in against Swansea, he'll be causing the manager a few selection headaches as the season progresses.

While the home side were struggling under the fast paced and high pressing game from the visitors, it looked for a while like Swansea would be going into the half-time break on level terms. They probably deserved to, having been just about the better side in the opening period, but there was a man on a mission to prevent it happening. You already know who.

Throughout the entirety of the opening 45 minutes, Lescott blocked all that needed to be blocked, as through-balls, dinked passes and shots looked for the City goal -- none got past the England international. He tackled crucially on a number of occasions to prevent a swift breakaway. He calmly nodded the ball back to Pantilimon several times to make sure that he didn't just sweep up the danger, but also kept possession with the Blues. Finally, he got his head on everything that his goalkeeper didn't catch or punch.

One particular moment in the first-half summed up Lescott's display. As Swansea were beginning to get on top, they won a corner and, with everybody taking up their positions offensively and defensively, a quick run to the near post was spotted by the corner-kick taker. It was dinked in, with the aim of catching City cold; it would have worked, but for Lescott, who was the only player that saw the danger and got there first.

He was somewhat less involved in the second-half of the game thanks to his team mates turning up after the break. The Blues were a completely different side and they grew into the fixture to eventually over-awe their opponents. Had Samir Nasri not put on a show in the final 45 minutes that was David Silva-esque, the centre-back would have been nailed on for man of the match on Sunday.

The centre-back told the press last week that he's "playing for his future" at City, since his contract ends in May and, as yet, no extension seems to be in the offing. If reports are to be believed, the club would be happy to let him leave to save the money on his wages, allowing them to bring in a younger replacement.

His performance against Swansea, though, proves he's got more to offer than just being a ready-made back up who can fill in for a few matches, or who can come off the bench to secure a game. He can be a regular starter in the best defence once again.

What happened on Sunday also showed how much of an error judgement it was for Pellegrini to pick Javi Garcia at centre-back ahead of the England international. He might lack pace, but he's got the nous to make up for a lack of speed.

It would be a grave error to let him leave so soon.


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