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Why All The Fuss About Yaya Toure?

Yaya Toure might be back from suspension, but he isn't going to fix many of Manchester City's problems

Michael Regan/Getty Images

Forget Lionel Messi. Forget Luis Suarez. Don’t worry about Sergio Aguero. The man stealing the headlines prior to tonight’s match is not expected to be a candidate for the 2015 FIFA Ballon d’Or – of course I’m talking about the giant Ivorian midfielder, Yaya Toure. Perhaps the focus on Toure was to be expected; Toure spent a few relatively successful seasons in Catalunya and even started our 2009 UEFA Champions League final triumph over Manchester United.

Suspended for the first-leg as a consequence of his own petulance, Toure’s absence was keenly felt by the reigning Premier League champions – or so the media would have you believe. Apparently, it was not Barcelona’s general superiority and technical prowess that saw them dominate the midfield at the Etihad; rather we are told that it was because Toure was away, a thinly-veiled, naive insult – the latest of a plethora propagated by the English media.

Never mind the fact that there is nary a midfield on the planet capable of coping with the Blaugrana; because of course, Toure is far better than them all! The return of the saviour. The prodigal son returns. Call it what you will; but there’s no escaping the fact that the build-up for Toure’s inclusion tonight has been hyperbolic to say the least.

It all started in the immediate aftermath of the loss in England; the local press in particular were keen to draw whatever positives they could, with the Manchester Evening News claiming that Toure’s return alone could mastermind a turn in City’s fortunes. And wherever you look, the same story is being rolled out, ad nauseam: "Sure, Barça won the first-leg, but let’s see how they cope with Yaya Toure!"

Now, it’s not my intention to belittles Toure and his ability; of course, we know first-hand just how good he can be, yet there is a reason why he was allowed to leave all those seasons ago – and newsflash, it isn’t because he was too good for the rest of the squad. Since his departure, Toure has thrived at Manchester City but there are signs that his star is in decline; rumours of a summer switch to Internazionale persist, while his performances on the field have been less decisive, less influential.

To reach the knockout stages, Manchester City won two matches in their difficult group stage: against Bayern Munich and against AS Roma – two impressive victories, both claimed without Yaya Toure. With the Ivorian, City drew two, lost to Bayern and more embarrassingly, to CSKA Moscow too.

Then we get to his overall productivity; Toure has just one assist to his name this season, and just two of his goals this season have come against top-half opposition. His record against the top five certainly isn’t indicative of a "big-game player"; so if Toure isn’t creative and isn’t scoring goals, then why should we be so concerned?

Rather, shouldn’t Manchester City be concerned? Their period of dominance in the first-leg came as a direct result of their switch to a more orthodox 4-2-3-1/4-2-2-2, featuring a double-pivot of Fernandinho and Fernando. Only one this season has Pellegrini deployed that double-pivot behind Toure in a more advanced role – in a disappointing 2-2 draw with Queens Park Rangers – suggesting that Toure’s inclusion will come at the expense of one of the Brazilians.

And therein lies the problem; if Toure starts in a deeper role, Manchester City will be just as exposed as they were in the first-half at the Etihad, if not more so thanks to the vast playing surface at the Camp Nou. Does Toure for instance possess the discipline, or even the tactical intelligence required to not only press, but actually harry and force mistakes from the likes of Andrés Iniesta and Xavi, or Ivan Rakitić?

What about his workrate; will he sacrifice himself to track back and cover the runs of the Barcelona midfield, or will he leave Fernando/Fernandinho isolated up against wave after wave of attack from the hosts?

Offensively, just how useful will his marauding runs forward really be, particularly given his loose style of dribbling and Javier Mascherano’s penchant for challenging in the tackle, as opposed to Sergio Busquets’ more measured, pragmatic approach to defending? And what happens if he loses possession on one of those trademark dribbles; won’t his absence leave acres of space in the centre of the field for Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar to exploit on the counter-attack?

Yes, Toure has the attributes required to threaten the Blaugrana, but there’s no reason to get carried away – just as he adds to City in so many ways, he also poses them problems and if there’s one thing that Barcelona are good at, it’s exploiting weaknesses.

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