Manchester City: Is Yaya Toure the Most Indispensable Player in the EPL?
If you're a regular observer of all things Premiership-related, you've likely arrived at this conclusion.
Like Forrest Gump once said about a box of chocolates, you never quite know what you're going to get when you tune into a match.
Never mind that Wolves were already destined for relegation. Never mind that they found themselves behind 3-1 at one point during the match. They kept fighting against a very good attacking Swansea side, and earned their point.
It was a fitting tribute to the loyal fans who have graced Molineux this season, because it hasn't always been pretty.
Games can also be seeping in pinpoint passing, darting runs and injections of furious pace. The English game has rightfully earned acclaim as the most physical brand of football in the world, but there are attacking sequences that are nearly unparalleled in terms of aesthetic quality.
It is a distinction that has been fought for over the years, and it is a testament to the number of world-class talent that litter its 20 teams each season that it continues to be considered among best leagues in the world (if not the best).
One of those players is Manchester City "defensive" midfielder Yaya Toure. I place that position in quotes because to dismiss the Ivorian merely a defensive option—one whose contributions end in tackling and some limited distribution—would be one of the gravest disservices possible.
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The man is transcendent in his capability as a footballer.
His ESPN Soccernet biography rightly describes him as having been one of the more "underrated" members of Barcelona's 2009 Champions League-winning side.
It's easy to be overshadowed when you're sharing the pitch with the likes of Lionel Messi, Xavi, Andres Iniesta and then-Barca forward Samuel Eto'o, but ask any pundit and they'll tell you that no player was more integral to the Blaugrana's success that season than Toure.
He was overtaken in the midfield pecking order by Sergio Busquets in the 2009-10 season, which would prove his last in Catalonia. That summer he packed his bags for the Eastlands and the promise of a newly-enterprising Manchester City side, who were eager to include themselves among the English elite.
Toure would prove an instantaneous example of their desire to win silverware. It's no coincidence that in his first season donning the sky blue jersey, City finished third and qualified for the Champions League.
The £27.5 million that was dispensed for Toure now seems a mere trifle in comparison to the hundreds of millions owner Sheikh Mansour has invested in the team. And given some of the flops that have filtered through in recent years (cough cough, Roque Santa Cruz), Toure stands as a smart investment.
One need only look at what City have achieved, and are about to achieve, during his brief tenure with the club to be assured of that.
It was Toure who scored the lone goal in the 2011 FA Cup final, which saw City finally end its 35-year trophy drought. The strike was venomous—a left-footed half-volley off a rebound in the penalty area which left absolutely no air particle unturned as it fired into the net.
It was clinical, it was incisive. It was vintage Toure.
He was a game changer that day versus Stoke, and he has continued to be this season. That much was evident during Monday's heavyweight bout between City and Manchester United, the second- and first-placed teams in the Premiership.
United entered with a three-point advantage on their "noisy" neighbors, but thanks to a master show from Toure, United ended the day staring at a 1-0 loss that allowed City to leapfrog them in the table thanks to goal differential (City boast a plus-61 difference to United's plus-53.)
It's never spoken of enough, the impact a midfielder on top form can exert on a match. There was Zidane in 2006 against Brazil, or Wesley Sneijder during Inter Milan's engrossing run to the 2009-2010 treble.
There was something magisterial about those two players as they set their sides on roads to greatness through their transcendent play.
Toure's own brand of impact is more power than prowess, but there is still a beauty about the way in which he plays.
Like a powerful engine, it took the Ivorian some time to rev up on Monday, but once he got going he was unstoppable.
Growing in significance as the game wore on, the 6'3" Ivorian looked for all the world like an NFL running back as he barreled his way through the center of the pitch, often leaving United's midfield in his wake.
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Often times, United (who had five midfielders to City's four) were unable to take advantage of that numerical advantage and boss the middle of the park. Toure can be thanked in large part for that.
His tackling was assured, his distribution precise. The only real blemish on his performance was a yellow card picked up for a cynical challenge on Ryan Giggs as the Welsh winger looked to burst up the left flank. In the grand scheme of things (namely, victory), that caution was forgotten.
Goal scorer Vincent Kompany and the immaculate Gael Clichy, both of whom were immense in defense, could lay claim to Man of the Match. But in the end, to my mind, it had to be Toure.
Not just because of this game, mind you. But because of what he has come to represent for this team.
He missed some 40 days to the Africa Cup of Nations, a stretch that ran from Jan. 3 to Feb. 16 before he finally returned for City's match against FC Porto, a 2-1 win in the Europa League.
City had lost three of the eight matches he'd missed, one of which came in the Premier League (to Everton), one in the Carling Cup (Liverpool), and one in the FA Cup (Manchester United.)
They had lost just twice in 20 league matches before Toure's departure; they lost once just days after he'd left. Few can lay claim to that kind of significance.
Robin van Persie, so often the savior for Arsenal over the course of this season, will likely (and deservedly) get a lion's share of votes for Most Invaluable Player—if such an award actually exists.
To the Dutchman's credit, he's already begun racking up awards like they're going out of style, and, again, justifiably so.
But Toure, who joined Van Persie in the 2012 PFA Team of the Year, can make quite a debate in his own right.
No one was more integral to City's success against United, and no Citizen has been more important in the chase for that elusive Premier League title.
Thanks to Toure's prowess on a sun-kissed evening at the Eastlands, they now find themselves in control of their destiny, with just two games left to play.
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