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News analysis

No longer a powerhouse but Toure can still be key to City's play

KIEV • Yaya Toure may not have the overwhelming, devastating presence of seasons past but on the grand stage, when he still fancies it, he remains a vital cog in Manchester City's machine.

Like so many midfielders approaching the latter days of their career, the 32-year-old's role is changing, slowly retreating deeper.

He is still culpable of the occasional lapse in concentration, displayed by the header he spurned in the closing minutes, even if his last-minute curler capped an impressive City performance against Dynamo Kiev.

There were elements of the old Toure as well as the new and the delicious manner in which he whipped in that left-foot finish to give Manuel Pellegrini's team a deserved two-goal cushion was just reward for his overall performance.

His future in Manchester remains uncertain but he provided more than enough evidence here, making his 80th appearance in European competition, to prove he is not a spent force just yet.

When the team sheets landed an hour before kick-off, he looked likely to start at No. 10 but instead occupied a holding role next to Fernando with Fernandinho deployed on the right and David Silva behind Sergio Aguero. Toure won the 2009 Champions League with Barcelona as a centre-half. City have used him most often in central midfield with spasmodic forays into a more attacking role. It says much for his brilliant career that it is impossible to define in which of those three he appears more distinguished.


Manchester City midfielder Yaya Toure holds off the attention of two Dynamo Kiev players during their Champions League tie. He scored the third goal in City's 3-1 win. PHOTO: REUTERS

He has often looked languid but, with his right leg heavily strapped, his movement was only marginally more than a hobble at times. It did not need to be; Kiev were anaemic in a shoddy first-half performance, displaying the effects of 77 days without competitive action.

When the hosts woke from their slumber in the second half, Toure showed brief moments of doziness. He perhaps deserved a smidgen of criticism for the slow-motion reaction on the edge of the area in the build-up to Vitaliy Buyalskyi's goal. But do not let the scarcity of sprinting cloud his ability to make a decisive contribution.

He trundled off with only one misplaced pass, coming in injury time, and, strikingly, showed a defensive discipline that has so often been lacking. There was a moment late in the first half when Fernando strode forward to join an attack. Toure immediately fell back into a position to anticipate any break. A small thing, perhaps, but nonetheless notable considering his past distaste for putting in thankless work.

Twenty minutes from time, the Ivorian broke into a rare scuttle to make a crucial tackle as Dynamo counter-attacked. How often has he been pulled up on his defensive work ethic? He still has a speed of thought that belies that weakened physical output. He was on hand to head down for Sergio Aguero's opener, and from then on Toure offered a controlling presence.

It seems wrong to intimate his future - or perhaps lack of - at City when Pep Guardiola takes over in the summer is the prime cause of his supposed recent lack of interest. His box-to-box performances had disappeared before that announcement.

The numbers also indicate a more gradual climbdown from his 2013-14 peak. After scoring 20 goals for City during that Premier League title-winning season, he managed only 10 in 2014-15. Against Kiev he scored his sixth of this campaign. It all adds to the theory of him being moulded into a deeper role.

THE GUARDIAN

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 26, 2016, with the headline 'No longer a powerhouse but Toure can still be key to City's play'. Print Edition | Subscribe