Manchester City's Yaya Toure limped off injured during their 3-2 defeat to Liverpool on Sunday with what looked like a hamstring injury, and manager Manuel Pellegrini has said he could miss the remainder of the season (via ESPN).
It was a big blow on a disappointing day for City, whose title ambitions are no longer in their own hands after Philippe Coutinho's winner on Merseyside. They now lie seven points adrift of leaders Liverpool with two games in hand.
The injury to Toure further dents City's title chances. The Ivorian has been in superb form this season, scoring 22 goals in all competitions and forming an excellent partnership with Brazilian midfielder Fernandinho, which has been key to City's attacking style of play.
Toure's loss will hurt them, but they have an outstanding option on the bench in James Milner who is capable of stepping in and has been underused this season, given his contribution when called upon.
He gave another superb cameo on the right at the weekend and had a hand in both City goals after a lacklustre first period in which City were outplayed and outfought. His introduction gave them fresh impetus and changed the pattern of the game dramatically.
His work rate and versatility are well-documented; his technique and quality are less so. Milner mixes a remarkable appetite for running and tackling with genuine ability on the ball, be it passing, crossing or beating players.
His problem, it seems, stems from his lack of natural class. Whereas David Silva floats around the turf making the game look easy—remarkable in his balance and poise—Milner gets by on grit and determination, which—for those who don't see him very often—translates into a carthorse, or a player lacking the requisite ability to be considered amongst the elite.
England fans, in particular, display a remarkable degree of arrogance where Milner is concerned. Indeed, many have convinced themselves he isn't worthy of a place in the squad—a ludicrous suggestion to anyone who has observed him at close quarters since his switch to City in 2010.
Pellegrini has seldom used Milner, certainly not to the level he should have, and when he does, it tends to be down the flanks. Many people feel his best position is in midfield where his strength and tenacity can be best utilised, and if ever there was a time for Pellegrini to test that theory, it's now since his main midfielder is out injured.
I've said it before, I'll say it again, James Milner is England's most important player.— Alessandro Amasanti (@AGAmasanti) April 13, 2014
And as well as Milner, City can also call upon Javi Garcia, a player whose reliability this season cannot be questioned despite his difficult first year at the club.
He endured a terrible spell under Roberto Mancini but has turned around his form this season. The away game at Bayern Munich, where he gave one of the most effective performances by any player in a City shirt this season, was the catalyst, and since then, he's appeared much more happy and confident.
He is an out-and-out holding player, which means his presence would free up Fernandinho to take on more attacking responsibility, something he's shown he's more than capable of.
Toure's injury is an added sore spot for City, but they have adequate options to see them through, and the race for the title is far from over.
Rob Pollard is Bleacher Report's lead Manchester City correspondent and will be following the club from a Manchester base throughout the 2013-14 season. Follow him on Twitter here: @RobPollard_.
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