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.
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.