By David de Winter – Sports Editor
Yaya Touré may have won the Africa Cup of Nations in Equatorial Guinea on Sunday night but his club, Manchester City, will be cursing their luck that their star player made it that far. It means that in the five matches Touré has missed (he will in all likelihood miss tomorrow’s match at Stoke City too), City have gained three points from a possible 12 in the league and been dumped out of the FA Cup following a humiliating home defeat to Middlesbrough. Nevertheless, Touré’s return might be too little too late for the Sky Blues.
Whilst all the focus at City has been on new £28 million signing Wilfried Bony, it is his fellow countryman Touré that is the team’s most important player and whose absence has been most keenly felt. Without him Manuel Pellegrini’s team have been impotent, failing to score in successive home games. They have lacked his steadying and controlling influence and also his driving force from midfield.
Touré was the main reason City won the title last season. His 20 goals in 35 league games are stats any striker would be proud of but for a box-to-box midfielder it is unbelievable (only Frank Lampard and Matthew Le Tissier have scored 20+ league goals in the Premier League era from midfield). Had Luis Suarez not had such a spectacular season, he would have been a shoo-in for PFA Player of the Year. But it is not just his goals that are key to City’s prospects. He is their playmaker, their talisman, the player to whom they look when they need inspiration. He has that Steven Gerrard-esque ability to take any game by the scruff of the neck and impose his will upon it. This is what the Citizens have been missing the most.
Without him City’s midfield has look decidedly lightweight. Brazilian duo Fernando and the slightly smaller Fernandinho are enforcers but don’t have the creativity to unlock defences; Spanish duo David Silva and Jesus Navas are tricky forward-thinking players but do not possess the requisite physicality; James Milner is committed but limited (his free-kick against Hull City certainly took me by surprise) and Frank Lampard does not have the engine any more at the age of 36. Samir Nasri is the player City should be looking to fill Touré’s boots but the Frenchman has had a lacklustre season disrupted by injury in which he has failed to score in 14 appearances.
City’s problem is that they rely too heavily on Sergio Agüero and Yaya Touré. Last term Edin Dzeko chipped in with 16 goals, Alvaro Negredo scored 9 and Nasri and Silva scored 7 each. This year that supporting cast is not contributing when main men Agüero and Touré are missing. Bony has clearly been brought in with that in mind but with leaders Chelsea already 7 points clear at the top of the league having already played all their main rivals away from home, retaining the league title looks a tall order for Manchester City in their current state, even with Touré back in the fold.