Comparing Barcelona's Yaya Toure to Manchester City's Yaya Toure

Paul Wilkes@@paulwilkesfootyFeatured ColumnistFebruary 17, 2014

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 17:  Manchester City  midfielder Yaya Toure answers questions from the media during a press conference after a training session ahead of their UEFA Champions League Round of 16 match 1st leg against Barcelona  at Etihad Stadium on February 17, 2014 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

The shock and surprise of Yaya Toure joining Manchester City almost four years ago wasn't down to his ability. It had more to do with the wage and transfer fee commanded for the Ivory Coast international.

Barcelona made £24 million on a player who wasn't a first choice, and Toure became the Premiership's highest earner on £220,000 a week, via the Express.

Then-City manager Roberto Mancini was more than pleased with the announcement, telling the BBC:

Everyone knows Yaya is a player that we have admired for a long time.

We would like to welcome him to Manchester City. He has played at the top level with Barcelona and I am sure his experience and ability will be very important for us.

That has very much proved to be the case as the midfield general has certainly enjoyed himself in England.

At Barcelona, Toure was positioned at the base of the midfield three. His primary game was to break up the play in front of the back four and give the ball to the more creative Xavi and Andres Iniesta.

He gave the team a certain amount of physicality and offered a threat from set pieces. There were moments when he could join the attack, but they weren't very frequent as he had to show more discipline in the anchor role.

Then there were times when he had to fill in at centre-back, most notably the Champions League final in 2009, due to injuries.

On a few occasions he provided more of a box-to-box threat alongside another sitting midfielder, as Pep Guardiola looked to vary the formation. The 4-0 win over Stuttgart was an example of this, via Zonal Marking.

The emergence of Sergio Busquets into the first team meant that Toure appeared less frequently. Many believe that Toure is a better player than the Spanish international, but that misses the point of Guardiola's philosophy.

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 14:  Yaya Toure of Manchester City is closed down by Mathieu Flamini and Bacary Sagna of Arsenal  during the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester City and Arsenal at Etihad Stadium on December 14, 2013 in Manches
Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

Busquets was tutored by Guardiola at Barca B, so he knew the exact role that his manager wanted to implement. He'd drop between the two centre-backs, position himself to make interceptions and make passes into a forward, who would then lay it back to one of the other midfielders.

These were fundamental principles of Guardiola's ethos that in time proved to be very successful. The manager also thought that Toure was a bit undisciplined, via Pete Jenson at the Daily Mail.

A breakdown in their relationship and the money on offer were enough for Toure to swap Camp Nou for the Etihad. Toure contradicted that point of view, telling Ona FM, via Sky Sports:

I wanted to stay at Barcelona and would have done so if Guardiola had asked me to, but the door to his office was always closed.

I did not speak to him in my last year there. There was no communication. In the end Guardiola spoke to me, but at the start he said nothing. He had no faith in me and did not want me.

Guardiola furiously denies the claims. "The reality is that he asked president Joan Laporta to leave and that we tried to convince him to stay," said the current Bayern Munich coach, via ESPN.

The move proved to be good business all round. However, as Yaya had been used mainly as a holding midfielder, the City fans were left a little perplexed by Mancini opting to select him behind the striker.

In some matches, he operated as a No. 10 in a 4-2-3-1 formation, making powerful runs into the box and looking to get on the end of crosses. In others, he was more of a third midfielder, advanced further than the other two but able to stop the opposition in their tracks.

This led to accusations that Mancini was a defensive coach, but Toure's 12 goals in all competitions in his debut season began to sway opinion.

As that campaign continued, he also started to find the net in the biggest of occasions: the only goal of the Manchester derby semi-final, then the winner in the FA Cup final itself, ending the club's 35-year wait for a trophy, via The Telegraph.

The added bonus of Toure playing in the hole was that he was also able to defend high up the pitch. He could stop deep-lying playmakers from picking their passes, and he made it difficult for ball-playing centre-backs carrying the ball out of defence.

With the signing of Sergio Aguero prior to the following season, Toure was moved a little deeper and become part of the double pivot. Here, he was able to influence the midfield but still join the attack with his surging runs.

City won the league, and Yaya made the Premier League Team of the Year. His combination play was excellent, and he scored a number of goals on the counter-attack as teams struggled to deal with him in the transitional phase.

Now, under Manuel Pellegrini, Yaya is back to being a box-to-box midfielder alongside Fernandinho in a 4-2-2-2 or narrow 4-4-2, depending on how you view it.

The Brazilian complements Toure superbly, knowing when to sit and when to advance up the pitch. It's difficult for the opposition to know which player to track, ultimately making the team more unpredictable.

An injury to Fernandinho recently saw Toure partner with both Javi Garcia and Martin Demichelis. The fluidity of the midfield was lost, and Toure has looked more exposed.

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 03:  Willian of Chelsea marshalls Yaya Toure of Manchester City during the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester City and Chelsea at Etihad Stadium on February 3, 2014 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Shaun Bott
Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

One major plus for Yaya in this campaign has been his increased goal tally, with a number of those attributed to free-kicks.

"We are always practising. Yaya stays normally, kicking the ball after we finish the daily work. He is really in a good moment also. It is not normal, someone always scoring free kicks," Pellegrini told ESPN last September.

"He is an excellent player but he is adding goals from free kicks and last Sunday he scores again [against Manchester United], and for him it is very important to score goals."

That importance is highlighted by 12 goals in 24 league appearances. He may be deeper, but Pellegrini has found ways of getting Toure into goalscoring positions.

Toure himself explained the difference in his role, via UEFA.com:

At Barcelona it was my job to hold and organise. It was all about being focused and never losing concentration.

Now I can drop into defence or join the attack. I was limited to playing in the middle at Barcelona. I like playing in England because it's an open league and very fast-paced.

The Premier League is perfectly suited to Yaya Toure's game. He combines a better passing ability than most with a unique brute strength to dominate central areas.

In hindsight, few can argue with Manchester City's purchase of the midfielder or Barcelona's preference in selling him. Everyone was a winner.