Manchester City welcome Arsenal to the Etihad on Sunday in what could prove to be a pivotal game in the league campaign of both sides.
Arsenal head into the game off the back of just their second league defeat of the season at Everton on Monday whilst City have had a week of mixed fortunes. A hammering at the reigning Champions last weekend was put to bed with a comfortable victory over Watford in mid-week, a result overshadowed by the injury to midfielder Ilkay Gundogan.
News that the Germany international will likely miss the rest of the season is a huge blow both to the player and to his manager, Pep Guardiola, as Gundogan was just beginning to settle into his role in the heart of the City midfield.
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Gundogan will likely be replaced on Sunday by Yaya Toure, something which would have seemed a near impossibility just a few months ago. To say Toure appeared to be heading for the Etihad exit door in the summer is something of an understatement. Out of form and seemingly out of shape for the best part of last season it appeared that the imminent arrival of Pep Guardiola would herald the end of Yaya’s six year City adventure. With outspoken agent Dimitri Seluk constantly causing bad press for the player and Guardiola choosing to leave Toure out of City’s Champions League squad it appeared the Ivorian would never play for the club again.
Then, on 19th November against Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park, Guardiola surprised everyone by starting Toure for the first time this season. Toure’s two goal haul was enough to earn City the victory on the day and even if his performance wasn’t vintage Yaya, his goals certainly were.
So with the injury to Ilkay Gundogan opportunity knocks for Yaya Toure. An opening both in the Manchester City midfield and in the managers Champions League squad is up for grabs for the number 42 if he can take it. He has shed weight and Pep Guardiola has stated that the Ivorian is training well but is there enough in the legs to carry City through the second half of the season?
If there is question mark over Toure’s fitness going forward there certainly isn’t over his ability, the former Barcelona midfielder was a huge driving force over the second half of both City’s Premier League winning seasons and that experience alone could prove vital down the stretch. With Fernandinho and De Bruyne ever willing runners maybe they can lighten the load on Yaya’s ageing legs and allow him to influence another tilt at the title?
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On top of his game he is a force of nature and few, if any, could cope with him on his day. I have no doubt that Yaya has the ability to grab this chance to lead City to success this season but my worry lies in the player’s attitude. Too many times last season Toure looked off the pace, disinterested even. This doesn’t fit in with the style of play Pep Guardiola demands of his players and it remains to be seen if these type of performances remain in the past.
When he finally departs, Yaya Toure will leave City as a legend, two Premier League titles, two League Cups and an FA Cup will ensure that, but if he can play a part in a title victory this season it might just be his crowning glory.
Sunday’s game won’t decide anything in terms of final league positions but defeat at home to Arsenal could see City slip outside the top 4 giving Chelsea a chance to pull away. Both teams will be without key players, Arsenal will be missing Shkodran Mustafi and Aaron Ramsey whilst Vincent Kompany is still sidelined along with Gundogan and the suspended pair of Sergio Aguero and Fernandinho also miss out.
Big games call for big players and City fans will be hoping Yaya can roll back the years and take on the mantle of match winner as he has so often in the past. Time will tell if age or fitness has caught up with midfielder or indeed if his positive attitude both in play and training will continue. I for one hope there is one last chapter left in Yaya Toure’s Manchester City story.
Do you think Toure can have an impact over the whole season? Let us know in the comments below!