It's not easy being a young defender in the Premier League - just ask Stefan Savic. But during a topsy-turvy season for Manchester City, one young man has risen above the rest and established himself at the heart of the defence. This week's blog looks at the unflappable Matija Nastasic.
Having made one of his earliest appearances for Fiorentina against AC Milan, and marking a certain Zlatan Ibrahimovic out of the game, Nastasic wouldn't have been overly flustered by being thrown well and truly into the deep end at City. After sitting through the excruciating spectacle of Savic imploding right in front of his eyes against the likes of Liverpool and Spurs, surely Roberto Mancini would take a more patient approach with Nastasic though, and ease him in gently? Or alternatively he could just start him in the Bernabeu.
Although this didn't turn out to be Nastasic's finest game for the club, being turned for the equaliser by the wily Karim Benzema, he did what Savic before him had failed to do and calmly got on with things, believing in his own talents. From that day forth Nastasic has blossomed at the club, often outperforming his defensive counterpart and captain Vincent Kompany. So well has the young Serb been performing that Joleon Lescott, a fixture of the title winning side, is but a distant memory for many City fans.
Nastasic was the exception to the rule in a hugely disappointing summer transfer window for Manchester City, but while Javi Garcia, Jack Rodwell and Scott Sinclair are still yet to settle, Nastasic's fine form is testament to his mature head on young shoulders. Outside the club though, you won't hear an awful lot about Nastasic. For while Savic's misfortunes sold newspapers and entertained opposition fans, there's not quite so much enjoyment to be had pointing out a man who goes about his job with the minimum of fuss.
No City fan can honestly say they expected Nastasic to settle quite as quickly as he has done, and it is his lack of glaring errors (so far) that have kept him off the radar of many an opposition fan or journalist. This seems to be a direct result of his calm temperament - at 19 you couldn't blame him for the odd hoof or two, but Nastasic prefers to calmly play his way out of defence with a cultured left foot. If he's playing like this at such a young age, who's to say how far he could go towards emulating the great defenders?
It is also refreshing to see that moving to the Premier League champions hasn't gone to his head. How often do you see the name of Matija Nastasic linked with controversy? While Mario Balotelli couldn't keep away from the headlines, this young Serb shows no interest in being anywhere near them. The club will undoubtedly be carefully controlling his press appearances, but if he carries on his current form he'll surely soon find himself more firmly in the media spotlight.
This summer looks like being one of change, but it's an unusual feeling to see a City defence which is unlikely to be affected. Now we have the right mixture of composure and power in the centre of defence, raw pace in Gael Clichy at left back and the sheer awesomeness of Pablo Zabaleta at right back. And that's not even factoring in the likes of Richards, Kolarov or Lescott - whose careers at City look slightly more shaky.
Serbian centre backs seem to flourish in the rain of Manchester, but while Nemanja Vidic gained his plaudits early, it seems like Matija Nastasic might have to wait a little while longer for his. That won't bother him though, it seems that not much does...