Yaya Toure faces his old side Barcelona for the first time as an opposing player this week, as Manchester City host the Catalan giants in the last 16 of the Champions League. Toure left the club for City in 2010, having grown frustrated at a lack of opportunities in the Barcelona side.
Such restricted game time came largely due to former boss Pep Guardiola’s preference for Sergio Busquets in the holding role, and the two former rivals go head to head at the Etihad in what is likely to prove an intriguing subplot.
Toure’s older brother Kolo has been unequivocal in his view that Guardiola’s preference for Busquets was wrong, telling The Sun last year that:
"Yaya was much better than Sergio Busquets at Barcelona. But he was behind him in the pecking order and he found that hard to accept.”
So how do the pair match up? Squawka take a look at the stats behind the rivalry.
When Toure left Barca, he moved to City as a defensive midfield enforcer. Whilst he has since flourished going forward, his defensive attributes are an important part of his box-to-box game. However Toure and Busquets' respective defensive stats suggest that Guardiola may have made the right call in his preference for his compatriot at the base of his midfield.
In this season’s Champions League, Busquets has registered twice the average Squawka Performance score per 90 minutes than Toure. Even basing the comparison domestically, by looking at the two right-hand columns of the comparison matrix, Busquets still edges out Toure, albeit by a narrower margin.
This can largely be put down to his defensive play in the engine of the Barcelona side, mopping up behind the Catalan side’s flair players and providing a solid shield in front of La Liga’s second tightest defence.
Domestically, Busquets has averaged over twice as many tackles per 90 minutes than Toure, registering 2.53 to Toure’s 1.12. This difference drops dramatically when only Champions League games are considered, suggesting that the styles of the two players' teams in their domestic leagues may play a part in their respective tackle stats. Whilst Toure’s average tackle rate increases in European competition, Busquets’ falls, leaving the two men’s tackle stats far closer than when comparing domestically.
However Busquets also contributes over twice as many interceptions per 90 minutes spent on the pitch as Toure, both domestically and in Europe.
As well as more frequent tackles and headed duels won this season, Busquets has also averaged more defensive actions (blocks, interceptions or clearances) per game this season than his rival, registering an average of four per game to Toure’s two.
Toure’s Change of Style
However whilst the defensive stats mount up in Busquets’ favour, to focus solely on the defensive aspect of the game does a great disservice to City’s Ivory Coast international. Whilst Busquets’ ability to tidy up in the middle of the Barcelona midfield perhaps vindicates the decision to allow Toure to leave, City’s marauding midfield man has shown his ability as a box-to-box midfielder in his time in England.
Released from the restrictive role that he played at Barcelona, Toure is integral to City at both ends of the pitch. A quick comparison of Busquets and Toure’s action areas maps highlight the difference between the roles that the two men play and suggest that Busquets’ aforementioned defensive qualities are likely to be needed to stop his former teammate over the two legs.
The action areas map above shows Busquets’ action areas in the San Siro against Milan earlier in the group stages, whilst the one below shows Toure’s against Viktoria Plzen. Despite also playing as the deepest of the side’s midfield players, Toure adopted positions far higher up the pitch than Busquets, evidencing the newfound freedom with which he is playing with at City.
Toure has scored 12 Premier League goals this season and has become synonymous with bursting runs forward from deep. He scored just four league goals in his 74 appearances for Barcelona but has averaged a goal every 174 minutes in the league this season, alongside four Premier League assists.
Toure wipes the floor with Busquets in every attacking aspect, largely due to the pair’s differing style. While Toure is adept defensively, the differences between the two going forward are vast. Toure has scored more often and taken far more shots at goal, whilst he has also created more chances domestically, although Busquets has shaded the European chance creation.
Busquets has also averaged more passes per 90 minutes than Toure, but given the two men's respective teams, this is to be expected. Toure has averaged 73 percent the number of Busquets’ passes per 90 minutes, but he plays for a team that average just 63 percent of the passes that Barcelona do, meaning that while Toure makes fewer passes, he makes a far larger percentage of his side’s passes.
Toure the Talisman
Such a fact is evidenced by his domestic pass statistics. Where he was just another cog in the machine at Barcelona, he has been unleashed as the side’s talisman at Manchester City. Toure is vital to the side’s game and is key in dictating their passing tempo. This was shown in the recent defeat to Chelsea who, having stopped Toure, had little trouble overrunning the rest of City’s midfield.
His importance is also demonstrated by the fact that no other Premier League player has made more passes than Toure this season.
As well as the passing tempo, he is also City’s lynchpin once they have approached the goal. He is the second highest league goalscorer at the club and is fifth in chances created.
While he may well face his old side thinking of what might have been, Toure has been freed from the shackles of the role that Barcelona demanded of him by his move to City. His box-to-box game means that he will be given the chance to show up his old adversary Busquets—an opportunity that he will surely relish and which could go a long way to deciding the tie.
The stats suggest that Busquets shades the comparison of the two men’s defensive capabilities, justifying the decision of Barcelona to allow Toure to leave, but the Ivorian’s all round game more than makes up for that and gives subtext to what was already a tantalising last-16 clash.