Micah Richards, playing for
Persistent question marks remain over Richards’ ability at the very highest level – as the fact he possesses just 13 caps from a near six-year international career testifies – but, at the age of barely 24, he is surely worthy of strong consideration, even allowing for his strange decision to remove his name from the stand-by list for last summer’s European Championship squad.
“I think Micah is a fantastic player and he deserves to be in the national team,” said team mate Pablo Zabaleta. “Micah came back to the team, he was very solid at the back. He is young, he is strong and he can give to England what he gives to Manchester City. He can play either centre back or right back.
“Terry’s not in the international team any more so maybe that is a good chance for him to get into the England team again.”
Richards’ average of a couple of caps per year is all the more mysterious given his versatility and, perhaps, the athletic youngster has been a victim of his own success, considered good at both defensive positions but great at neither by a succession of England managers.
“He can play both positions, centre-back and right-back,” continued Zabaleta. “He’s played before in this position and looking at this season, we probably we have Macion, me and Micah (at right-back) so it’s good too see Micah as a centre-back.
“He’s a very good player, he can play in both positions so for the team its good when you’ve got players who can play in different positions – Micah had a fantastic game today.”
Richards himself declines to discuss his standing with Hodgson and the national squad although, having formed an impenetrable pairing with Joleon Lescott in front of England goalkeeper Joe Hart on Saturday, it is tempting to imagine he can envisage a return to the international fold.
“I was excited to be back out there after being out for so long, me and Joleon haven’t played together too many times,” said Richards. “A lot of people don’t realise how good he is. He’s played for England and he’s a top class centre back. He showed that last season.
“People always say the foreigners make City’s team but we have a good six or seven English lads in the squad. When we come in and get our chance we give 100% and they did that today.”
Richards’ return coincided with City’s first clean sheet of the season – although perhaps it was no coincidence – although the England man was arguably not even the best defender on display. Full-back Aleksandar Kolarov was a force in defence and scored a magnificent fourth-minute direct free-kick before laying on a second goal for Sergio Aguero, whose 55th minute introduction had so infuriated Balotelli.
The Italian forward is clearly becoming an irritant to manager Roberto Mancini and coach David Platt who refused to answer questions properly when quizzed over Balotelli’s show of disrespect as he left the field.
As City proved with last season’s Carlos Tevez debacle, of course, such distractions matter little to the club, given their colossal financial resources and a squad whose depth is unmatched in the Premier League and James Milner’s late direct free-kick completed the rout and their 33rd unbeaten home league game.
Far more worrying have been City’s defensive performances to date and, for
this reason, their display in overwhelming a poor
“You always know that when you play against Manchester City you are going to be busy,” said goalkeeper Simon Mignolet, one of the few Black Cats to emerge with credit. “In games like this you want to keep it goalless as long as you can, but by conceding early it meant a tough game got even tougher. After going ahead early City pressed us really high up the pitch and created lots of chances.”
Many more teams look poised to experience the same problem in the weeks to come.