Nastasic looking forward to festive schedule
Manchester City youngster Matija Nastasic is relishing his first taste of England's traditionally busy Christmas fixture schedule. The 19-year-old centre-back, who has made a big impression since his arrival from Fiorentina in August, is unfazed by the prospect of playing five games in the space of 15 days.
He is also far from concerned by the fact the next two of those matches, at Sunderland on Boxing Day and Norwich next Saturday, will involve lengthy journeys. "To me it is not a problem," said the Serbia international. "I am always happy when I am playing, so this time of the season makes me happiest of all!
"My father and mother are here, so I won't miss my family I don't look at the two long away trips as a problem at all. Now we concentrate on the Sunderland game, and then we focus on Norwich - it's not a headache. The league in Italy stops, and we have a break, but playing here is no problem for me. I am looking forward to the next couple of games."
City needed a last-gasp winner from Gareth Barry to beat Premier League bottom side Reading in the first of their festive matches at the Etihad Stadium on Saturday. Having gone into the game trailing leaders Manchester United by six points, the champions were in danger of handing their title rivals another boost until Barry headed home a contentious goal in injury time.
Reading felt Barry had fouled Nicky Shorey but City celebrated a valuable three points amid much relief and their joy increased later in the weekend when Swansea City held United to a draw. Although Reading showed commendable resilience throughout, Nastasic felt victory was deserved for City's obvious superiority and greater number of chances over the whole game.
Nastasic said: "We knew the game would be difficult because it was obvious they would just come and defend, but we deserved the goal in the last minute. Reading played 11 men behind the ball, in a small area which always makes it very difficult to attack - but that was their game plan.
"We are a very strong team, self-motivated and full of confidence at the moment. What is important is that we keep the same attitude, if we want to win the Premier League. We won the game, and that is the important thing."
Nastasic's consistent and unfussy performances are currently keeping England centre-back Joleon Lescott out of the City side. There was even the unusual sight on Saturday of Lescott and captain Vincent Kompany - the heart of City's title-winning defence last season - on the bench as Nastasic partnered Kolo Toure.
Manager Roberto Mancini's regard for the player is evident and he is quickly becoming a fans' favourite. Nastasic said: "It makes me happy if the fans think highly of me, and I just want to keep playing the way I am - that is the objective for the whole team, not just me."
Kompany was not risked against Reading as he continues to recover from the groin injury he suffered in the Manchester derby defeat a fortnight ago. Another teenager, Karim Rekik, was also deployed at left-back as both Gael Clichy and Aleksandar Kolarov were sidelined by niggles.
Their fitness will be assessed ahead of the trip to the Stadium of Light while striker Mario Balotelli could come back into contention after illness last week but forward Samir Nasri is out with a hamstring injury. The match marks the halfway point of the season and Mancini wants his side to start picking up the tempo.
The Italian said: "We can work better but at the same time I think that we need to do more than last year. From the first six months we need to work better - that's individuals and the group."