I may be about to say something that is deemed blasphemous amongst Manchester City fans, but it’s something that has been bugging me for a large part of the current season. This could be akin to walking into a party and announcing that you’ve just taken a pee in the punch, but nevertheless I’m going with it. My bags are packed and I’m finished with my fitness training, just in case I need to outrun the pitchforks. Again.
Now, this could be something of a problem given the number of fit midfielders we currently have in the squad, so I, unfortunately, have to talk hypothetically for the time being. However, having watched the blues in recent weeks, I’ve come to the conclusion that, should I have been put in Roberto Mancini’s shoes and asked to manage the team, I would seriously consider dropping Yaya Toure.
The destructive midfielder, who broke up attacks and burst through the opposition team like a hot knife through butter last season, has been absent without leave for the most part of this. With the possible exception of City’s trip to the Bernabeu, Yaya Toure’s performances in the 2012-13 campaign have been remarkably average. In fact, other than that powerful run that laid on Edin Dzeko to open the scoring against Real Madrid, I’m struggling to think of another occasion where he’s blitzed through the other team this season.
Yet, he was a remarkably potent weapon in closing that eight-point gap in last April.
So what’s happened? On the face of it, very little has changed: He’s still starting games as a defensive midfielder, whose main job is to prevent attacks getting through, but he does still have license to move forward when there’s cover. There are mitigating circumstances when it comes to the impact that Javi Garcia has had – which, at best, can be described as minimal – meaning that there hasn’t been that striker-for-defensive-midfielder substitution that has allowed the Ivorian to focus solely on attacking.
But the defensive side of his game has become, for want of a better word, lazy. The number of times he lets his man run past him, doesn’t get across to cover his side of the pitch and offer protection to the defenders, or simply doesn’t get back from an attack is steadily increasing. I’ve been watching as, on the left side of the midfield, Gareth Barry has worked his backside off to offer Nastasic/Lescott/Clichy cover when they are facing pressure from opposition runs down their flank.
Yet, on the other side of the pitch, I’ve witnessed Kompany/Zabaleta/Maicon struggling as Yaya Toure ambles across – usually pointing at the man he should be closing down or marking – to help. There seems to be very little urgency from him, which is leaving City exposed. It’s frustrating to watch, because it’s been clear from his games previously that he can do the defensive side of the game to a high standard, but he appears to be disinterested this year – whether through injury, tiredness or apathy, who knows?
Either way, he doesn’t appear to be engaged in what is happening on the pitch. It’s almost as if he doesn’t want to do the hard graft defensive work and is picking and choosing which aspects of the game he will do. Naturally, I don’t want to believe this is the case, which leads me to think he’s, instead, struggling to do it, be it through carrying a niggling injury or through having been a near ever-present, rarely substituted midfielder for the season.
And here’s the problem: For the last few weeks, he’s done very little to influence the outcome of a game – a goal against United is about as good as it gets. He’s become someone who is in the team because he might do something brilliant, but, just as with a budget airline flight, there’s very little room for passengers in a team looking to top the league at the end of May.
We know he’s going to be at the African Cup of Nations very soon and going to be missing a large number of City matches as it is, so we should be maximising his availability. But there’s no point in having a player on the pitch who is contributing very little to the team, for whatever reason.
For a large number of his games, Javi Garcia hasn’t been on form for City. Jack Rodwell hasn’t had much of a chance, thanks to injury. James Milner is currently side-lined with a recurring problem that cut short his substitute appearance at Wigan. Despite options being thin on the ground, I’d be inclined to give a start to Rodwell, if fit, or Garcia over Yaya Toure.
While it’s true that the blues sorely missed his contributions during the time he was on international duty last season, it could be argued they’re currently missing his contributions right now and he’s in the team. It’s almost as if he’s become complacent in his starting position and, because he and Roberto Mancini both know he is unique in that, on his day, no midfielder in the world comes close to his style of play, he’s resting on his laurels and not performing to the best of his ability.
We need the real Yaya Toure back.
Maybe the way to do that is to make him realise he’s not an untouchable member of the squad.