The 2013/14 English Champions have a massive 2015/16 season ahead of them, as they look to get back in the title hunt on all fronts, after enduring a disappointing 2014/15 season.
Sergio Aguero was the savior for them in many-a-game during the early stages of the last campaign while the backline leaked a lot of cheap goals and the early Barclays Premier League losses against Stoke City and West Ham United, had a rather inhibiting effect on City’s pursuit of Chelsea, who were off the blocks quickly and efficient in consistently picking up 3 points.
In the UEFA Champions League and the two cup competitions, it was City’s struggle for goals that ultimately led to them losing against the likes of CSKA Moscow (in the Champions League group stage), Barcelona in the R-16, Newcastle United in the Capital One Cup and Middlesbrough in the FA Cup.
Manuel Pellegrini’s men were over-reliant on their amiable Argentine striker because of the lack of goals from Edin Dzeko and Stevan Jovetic, and also midfielders – Yaya Toure and Fernandinho – who you expect to chip in with a few. The Ivorian’s form in particular, was not even half as good as it was in the title-winning campaign, and being the talisman of the side, City did struggle on the days when the 32-year old couldn’t weave his magic.
Looking ahead to the next season, I think Toure is one player who is going to be crucial for them, purely because of his ability to create and also, score goals. You have David Silva, Samir Nasri and the likes, but goal scoring is not this duo’s forte. Silva, though, was lethal in front of goal last season, scoring 12 goals – the second-most for the Cityzens in the league – and deputizing for Aguero ably.
Read on… as we work out the ways by which Pellegrini can get the best out of his A-class midfielder.
Prior to the beginning of last season, you got to give the benefit of the doubt for the tragic circumstances Toure had to put up with. His brother, Ibrahim Toure, expired while he was captaining Ivory Coast at the World Cup in Brazil. To add insult to injury, the Elephants were eliminated in the group stages of the showpiece event, and although it is easy to think that Toure would have had time to recuperate before joining up with the City squad, you have to take into account the emotional stress he would have been under.
It took a while for the big man to get back to normality and start delivering for his team. His first goal of the campaign came against Aston Villa away from home, in October, but even then he wasn’t up to full speed and the consistency was lacking in his game. The problem with Toure last season was his overall lack of contribution: defensive work rate, goals and chance creation; you could say that City were carrying a passenger, who, however, had the faith of his manager.
Toure was at his best from November until the first week of January, following which he joined up with the national squad for the African Cup of Nations (AFCON), leading them to their second AFCON title, and first in the same competition after 23 years. He returned to action for City only during the third week of February, by when the then defending champions had lost all momentum and ground on Chelsea, who didn’t look back thereafter.
Toure will be 32 years and 86 days old by the time City kick off their 2015/16 Premier League campaign at the Hawthorns against West Bromwich Albion, and I, for one, think that Pellegrini needs to be astute in the way he uses the former Barcelona man. Though age is not a barrier for most sportsmen, Toure is one of those players who doesn’t epitomize athleticism; he has power and speed in abundance, but he maybe is not in the bracket of an Arjen Robben (31) or Franck Ribery (32) – who are at a similar age level as him, but exude a lot more agility and stamina than the City midfielder.
If I was Pellegrini, I would not play him in more than 30-35 matches next season, meaning he will play the midweek Champions League games, which you expect to be tough for the Cityzens who will be in pot 2 for the group stage draw that will take place on the 27th of August in Monaco, the pivotal Premier League encounters and as an impact sub in the supposedly winnable games. However, having said that, City will need to secure Paul Pogba if they are keen on playing Toure in only the crunch games, and not extract too much from him at this stage of his career.
The Chilean manager, during his time at the Etihad Stadium, hasn’t favored playing Toure in the No.10 position, although it is not a ridiculous decision from his point of view. Yes, he doesn’t contribute a lot to City defensively, to be playing alongside Fernandinho or Fernando Reges in what is usually a 4-4-2 or 4-4-1-1 system. But in an attacking sense, the Ivorian is at his lethal best when playing in the middle of midfield; with his ability to take on players – he completed an ultra-impressive 51 of his 61 (84% success rate) attempted take-ons in the league last season – he will create space for others if he can take his marker along with him.
I also think that at times Toure, too, can be a victim of over-reliance. As aforementioned, with his ability to create and score goals, his status in the City squad is unparalleled, and as a result, not only is the player in question under extreme pressure to deliver, but when he is going through a bad day, his team hasn’t had a similar personnel in recent years to step into Toure’s shoes and do the job. That is the reason why Pogba’s signature is pursued so vigorously by Txiki Begiristain and Pellegrini – who acknowledge the burden Toure has had to put up with as the only ‘comprehensive’ midfielder at the Etihad.
Though Toure, who scored 10 goals and created 33 chances in the 2014/15 Premier League season, will be an integral part of what City desire to achieve next season, I think the entire squad needs to pull up its socks and rediscover the form from the 2013/14 season, which saw them defensively organized, scoring goals was shared by 5 or 6 players in the team and there was more fluidity than last season, to the way City went about their business.
If the entire squad comes good, you will see the pressure on Toure alleviated, which subsequently will bring the best out of him. Pellegrini also will have to come up with a blueprint for Toure, clearly conveying him of his role in the side and not overwork him during the course of the season. By lessening the number of games he plays, City and Pellegrini have a better chance of seeing the best of Toure in the games he does play in.