Sunday, September 21, 2014

The Problem of Yaya Toure

I think it's fair to say City's start to the season has been a little underwhelming. Chelsea have hit the ground sprinting, and while their first few games were easy, the recent wins against Everton and Swansea were impressive. By contrast, City have looked labored, and the difference is clearest in the attack. Last year, City were truly impressive going forward, earning a 121 offensive efficiency rating, by creating chance after chance for Aguero, Negredo, and Dzeko to finish. This year, that figure is down to 89, which would have been 14th in the league last year. City's possession is up, the defensive efficiency is improved, and the finishing is still outstanding thanks to Aguero, but the team's decline in chance creation is really limiting.

The person getting the blame for City's form in the media is Yaya, and for once the media is spot on. Let me begin by saying that Yaya is a great player, and has been invaluable to City's success in the Sheik Mansour era. Still, there's no denying he hasn't been the same attacking force so far in this campaign. He has had just two shots on goal in 3 Premier League games, and the attack looked much better against Arsenal, a game he sat out.

Last year, Toure's offensive explosion (and sudden free kick expertise) masked a worrying decline in his defensive capabilities. He's a step slow in tackling, and doesn't cover enough ground to effectively screen the back four. Yaya's totals of 9 fouls and 2 yellow cards, both most on the team despite only playing 3 games, are proof of this. Though he was called out by Dietmar Hamann, I don't think everyone fully appreciated how bad he had gotten. Everyone, that is, except for Manuel Pellegrini, who compensated for Toure's deficiencies by playing Javi Garcia, a pure defensive midfielder, alongside him in the run-in. It was also why he brought in Fernando, a tough-tackling midfielder with the ability to actually make a forward pass, to be the ideal complement to Toure in the center of the pitch. Fernando's injury has made things more complicated, and Pellegrini now has to make some difficult choices. 

There's no doubt that Yaya still has the ability to change games and be a dominant force for City. Pellegrini can try and hide him defensively by playing three in central midfield, and given our current shortage of strikers that might make sense. But his start to the season may be a sign that at 31 years old, his age is catching up with him, and that is behind City's reluctance to re-sign him to a new contract. Unless Toure rediscovers his attacking form, City are unlikely to retain the championship, and equally unlikely to retain his services.

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