Club Focus – Everton – Distin stands tall as Lescott prepares for Goodison return

Everton host Manchester City on Saturday with the visitors seeking Champions League qualification while the hosts cling to an outside chance of making the Europa League. Likely to start in defence for Roberto Mancini’s side is former Toffee Joleon Lescott, who swapped Goodison Park for Eastlands in 2009. Lescott, immediately replaced by Sylvain Distin, has yet to play against his former teammates, having missed all three of City’s defeats by Everton since his transfer.

The last two seasons have seen Everton record victories of 2-0 and 2-1 at the City of Manchester Stadium, as well as a 2-0 home triumph in January 2010. As noted, Lescott missed the trio of Everton victories but his Everton replacement, Distin, featured in each, much as he has done for almost every minute of Everton’s season thus far. Having started 41 games and only missed 20 minutes of action at the end of the Toffees’ 2-2 draw with Aston Villa in April, the Frenchman has racked up roughly 3,680 minutes of football since August; an astonishing figure and testament not only to his fitness but also his reliability. Usually partnering Phil Jagielka, Distin has kept World Cup finalist John Heitinga out of his preferred position to the extent the Dutchman has agitated for a move elsewhere. In any other year – a year without the continual excellence of Leighton Baines – Distin would be a certainty for Everton’s Player of the Year. Instead the award is destined for Baines although Distin has pushed him close.

When Lescott swapped Liverpool for Manchester and ended his successful partnership with Jagielka, David Moyes moved quickly for the former Portsmouth centre-back. Lescott became a City player on August 25 and Distin joined Everton three days later for a fraction of the fee received for the England international. Mark Hughes parted with around £20m for Lescott, four times the £5m Moyes paid to imploding Portsmouth for the services of Distin. At the time of the signing Moyes confirmed Distin was a direct replacement for Lescott and after a brief period of settling in, Distin has filled Lescott’s shoes admirably. The similarities in their play are manifold: both rely on their physical gifts, primarily pace and power, as much as defensive nous, and both are dominant in the air and left-footed. Furthermore, Distin complements Jagielka as much as Lescott. Distin is also on course to replicate Lescott in another way; playing every league game of the season just as Lescott did in both 2006/07 and 2007/08.

While Distin may never match Lescott’s goal haul of 17 in 143 games, including 10 in one season – compared to Distin’s three in 81 – the ex-Manchester City defender was the calming and experienced influence Everton needed after the tumult of Lescott’s protracted move. With more than 300 games in English football by the time he came to Goodison – and another 100 or more in France – Distin offered that rare mix of a veteran’s experience and an athlete’s pace, with better-than-average technique. Lescott was hugely popular amongst Evertonians before heading for pastures new, and perhaps the greatest compliment for Distin is that the man he replaced is no longer missed.

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