Manchester City defender Micah Richards believes centre-back Joleon Lescott has proved once again just how good he is.
Despite being one of City's most consistent performers in last season's title-winning campaign, Lescott has been kept on the bench in some key fixtures this season.
That has led to speculation that manager Roberto Mancini might have lost faith in the England international, although the Italian himself has stressed he remains an important player and is thinking of the bigger picture.
After sitting out last week's Barclays Premier League win at Fulham and the midweek Champions League draw with Borussia Dortmund, Lescott returned and gave an assured performance in a 3-0 win over Sunderland.
With captain Vincent Kompany out through injury, the 29-year-old played alongside Richards in the back line.
Richards told City TV: "He is a quality defender.
"A lot of people don't understand how good he is - well, people do because he is playing for England - but he really is a top-class centre-back, one of the best in the league.
"I think last season and at the start of this season he has shown that."
Richards' own participation in a comprehensive defeat of the Black Cats came as a surprise.
The 24-year-old had not featured this season having injured an ankle on Olympic duty with the Great Britain side during the summer.
Richards, who is more regularly used as a right-back, had been expected to be out longer but with Matija Nastasic also suffering a knock, he was pressed back into action in the centre.
His presence helped City produce their first clean sheet of the season and lay the foundation for a win secured by goals from Aleksandar Kolarov, Sergio Aguero and James Milner.
Richards said: "Obviously it is nice to get back after so long but it is nice to get a clean sheet.
"We had not kept a clean sheet this season so to come in and step into the back four - I thought the back four was outstanding.
"But I thought James Milner was my man of the match. I thought he was outstanding, he was everywhere.
"Obviously Kolarov had a good game as well, so it was an all-round good team performance and I am just happy to be back."
City now head into the international break in a healthy position with 15 points from their first seven league games.
They had been unbeaten prior to the match but the win was their first truly convincing performance of their title defence.
Mancini said: "It was nice to finish before the international break with this victory. I think we played very well. I am pleased with our players.
"Micah played very well. It was the first game after two months but I am happy for his performance.
"We needed him because we had two or three defensive injuries.
"We are happy for the clean sheet."
City raced into an early lead with Kolarov firing in a fifth-minute free-kick but it was not until the hour they gained tangible reward for their dominance as substitute Aguero added a second.
Richards had two headers cleared off the line, David Silva hit the bar and Carlos Tevez shot narrowly wide in a strong spell before James Milner struck the third from an 89th-minute free-kick.
Sunderland had gone into the game unbeaten and with confidence after taking four points off City last season.
But they were outplayed and had no complaints about the result.
Goalkeeper Simon Mignolet said: "They really wanted to win the game and played really well.
"We had some chances on the counter-attack but not enough to threaten the opposition, whereas they created a lot of opportunities.
"You always know that when you play against Manchester City you are going to be busy.
"But we want to win games and it doesn't matter if you make a save or two. You don't want to concede three. It's always disappointing.
"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."