Friday, 24 February 2012

The Importance of the Ivorian...

Just a short one today, but something that has been playing on my mind for a couple of weeks.  We all knew that January was going to be a difficult month.  We played a lot of games against good opposition, 4 of these were without captain Vincent Kompany, and many of them were without our midfield general Yaya Toure.  

Clearly this was going to be a big loss (we also missed his brother somewhat as well with the absence of Kompany) and I felt that if we could come through January still on top of the pile then we were doing pretty well.  We achieved that aim and ground out a few important victories, success over Tottenham for example was vital, on the downside however we crashed out of two cup competitions, something that none of us were particularly pleased about.

So if we isolate the league form, what was the effect of being without Toure?  Well, we played 5 league games and we only lost of them (the annual away day defeat at Goodison), of the rest there were two scratchy 1-0 victories away at Wigan and Aston Villa, the thrilling victory over Spurs and the quite straight forward 3-0 defeat of Fulham.  Now our home form has been superb throughout the season, and even without Toure we have looked pretty strong, granted the win over Tottenham was a bit shaky but that was more down to some lapses in defence as opposed to missing something in the midfield.  Performances away from home though were a bit shakier...

The interesting thing to note however is that even before Yaya left in early January, our away form was already on the slide.  During the festive season a listless 0-0 draw at West Brom and that ridiculous 1-0 defeat at the Stadium of Light hardly demonstrated a solid team away from home.  Therefore blaming the absence of Toure for the uncertainty of victories at Villa and Wigan seems a little strange.  It is an undeniable fact though that despite what results may say, his absence has been really noticeable.

It is difficult to pinpoint exactly what it is that we missed, but I think it was pretty well demonstrated in the first 19 seconds against Porto on Wednesday afternoon.  The incisiveness of the ball he played to release Aguero for our first goal was something that we have really missed.  Silva and Nasri are experts at those sorts of passes higher up the pitch, but as good as Barry, Milner, De Jong and co have all been, there was noone deeper that could take out the entire opposition midfield (and in this case defence) in just one pass.  Our game was more ponderous in his absence and even though all year round we have been a team who have worked the ball carefully, when he is in the team we do it with more purpose somehow.

It is not just his technical attributes that we have lacked.  His power and presence has also been sadly missing from our midfield, they are qualities that really aren't present in any of our other defensively minded midfield players and I wonder if that is something that Mancini may look at addressing.  It is a bit of a concern that should the 28 year old suffer a long term injury we don't really have a ready made replacement, and having seen how much his absence harms us, finding someone similar appears important.  It probably isn't as simple as that though, there are very few players in the world with his level of ability and professionals of that quality aren't going to be overly happy sitting on the bench and playing second fiddle to the Ivorian.

I do wonder if the the short term signing of David Pizarro is to bring that incisive passing into the team should Toure be absent, he has demonstrated already that he can be an excellent passer of a football but clearly he will not offer that physicality in the middle of the field.  

It seems crazy to me that at times last year some of us questioned Toure, some weren't exactly sure what he brought to the team, 12 months on and he is one of the first names on the team sheet, and even though our league form may have stayed roughly the same, it was clear for all to see how much we missed him, i'm sure my relief to have him back for the run-in is shared by City fans everywhere.

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