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Lescott feeling the pressure at City

There are worse places to tackle your problems than the magnificent seven-star Emirates Palace Hotel in Abu Dhabi, but right now that will be of little comfort to Mark Hughes.

Five straight draws in the Premier League. Ten points dropped. The first rumblings of discontent since the Manchester City manager persuaded Sheikh Mansour to send his spending on new players soaring past the £200 million mark last summer. Make no mistake, these are testing times for Hughes.

And high among the issues casting a cloud over his team's sunshine break in the Middle East this week is the form of Joleon Lescott.

The £22 million defender is unable to enjoy the Sheikh's hospitality with his team-mates because he is on international duty in neighbouring Qatar, although whether his performances in a blue shirt this season warrant an England place against Brazil is open to question.

Lescott has looked uncharacteristically shaky since City bowed to Everton's demands in August and raised their offer beyond £20 million, making him the third most expensive defender in history.

True, he has not been helped by having to forge an immediate partnership with City's other central defensive signing Kolo Toure, nor the lamentable performances of Wayne Bridge outside him. He has also switched from a team built primarily not to concede goals to one committed to attacking football, a move which meant he was always going to be more exposed.

But Lescott still looks a shadow of the player who seemed so comfortable and composed at the heart of Everton's defence for three years (that is if you ignore a faltering display in the 6-1 home defeat to Arsenal on opening day which incurred the wrath of his former manager David Moyes).

While the 27-year-old was waiting to leave Everton and training on his own, City were starting the season with two clean sheets. Since his arrival, they have managed just two more in nine league games. That is not entirely his fault, of course. But he was brought in to keep goals out, and at the moment it is simply not working.

Unlike Rio Ferdinand, whose problems this season can be plotted by a series of high-profile blunders for club and country, Lescott's decline has been less obvious but no less worrying. A poor positional awareness around his new team-mates and lack of confidence on the ball are just two of the criticisms being directed his way.

There have been collectively awful defensive performances, like the one that saw City concede four goals in the Manchester derby at Old Trafford. But Lescott has also been culpable individually. He had to hold up his hands for Fulham's second goal at Eastlands last month, and was again found wanting as Hughes' side shipped three in another home draw at home to Burnley on Saturday that prompted a chorus of boos from the City fans at full-time.

When he allowed himself to be brushed aside by David Nugent as the two players chased a long ball late in that game, Lescott looked as though he was playing blindfolded. Hughes has tried to deflect criticism away from his player but, privately, the manager and his staff are worried about the situation.

In fact, having spent £38 million on two new centre-backs in the summer, City's best player in that position so far this season has been Vincent Kompany.

Hughes insists it will take time for Lescott to gel with Toure and Bridge, and he cites the example of Chelsea's defenders needing "'four or five years to become rock solid".

But the truth is that Ricardo Carvalho teamed up with John Terry in the summer of 2004 and was celebrating winning the Premier League title 10 months later. And who did Chelsea play at left-back for much of that season? Wayne Bridge.

One theory for Lescott's uncertain start to life at City is that he is struggling to cope in the spotlight. That might seem a strange thing to say about a player with eight England caps and several seasons of Premier League football under his belt, but playing for Everton is vastly different to playing for City since they became firmly established as the richest club on the planet.

Every player is scrutinised that much more than before, each one's performances judged in light of his price tag. The bigger the fee, the quicker people are to rush to judgement when things don't go well.

Lescott didn't ask Everton to hold out for a higher price any more than he encouraged City to keep raising their offer, but he knows that it goes with the territory.

It was the same when Everton paid Wolves £5 million for him in the summer of 2006, and it is the same now City have more than quadrupled that figure to take him to Eastlands.

Only Ferdinand and former Juventus stopper Lilian Thuram rank higher on the list of football's most expensive defenders, and Lescott falls some way short of both players, despite his England team-mate's slump in form this season.

Neither is it easy to justify the size of his transfer fee compared to how much other leading centre-backs in the Premier League have cost their clubs. For instance, is Lescott any better than Thomas Vermaelen (£10 million), Nemanja Vidic (£7 million), Gary Cahill (£5 million) or Brede Hangeland (£2.5 million)?

You could argue that the Sheikh's mind-boggling spending power makes any such argument irrelevant. Indeed, City were prepared to go as high as £50 million if Terry had indicated a willingness to leave Chelsea in the summer.

Club insiders maintain they would have pursued the Lescott deal even if Terry had been prised away from Stamford Bridge, although one would doubt the wisdom of that.

You would have to ask whether Hughes simply opted for a poor second-best in Lescott. Or perhaps, whether he might have been better off just sticking with captain Richard Dunne, a steady centre-back who has hardly put a foot wrong since being shunted out of the door to Aston Villa for £6 million.

These are questions the City boss will no doubt be hoping he does not have to face from Sheikh Mansour and chairman Khaldoon Al-Mubarak as he tries to enjoy his week in the sun.

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