Saturday 23 September 2017

Toure helps find extra gear for Sky Blues when it matters most

Manchester City's Yaya Toure scores his teams fourth goal of the game during the Barclays Premier League match at the Etihad Stadium, Manchester. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Wednesday May 7, 2014. See PA story SOCCER Man Utd. Photo credit should read: Martin Rickett/PA Wire. RESTRICTIONS: Editorial use only. Maximum 45 images during a match. No video emulation or promotion as 'live'. No use in games, competitions, merchandise, betting or single club/player services. No use with unofficial audio, video, data, fixtures or club/league logos.
Manchester City's Yaya Toure scores his teams fourth goal of the game during the Barclays Premier League match at the Etihad Stadium, Manchester. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Wednesday May 7, 2014. See PA story SOCCER Man Utd. Photo credit should read: Martin Rickett/PA Wire. RESTRICTIONS: Editorial use only. Maximum 45 images during a match. No video emulation or promotion as 'live'. No use in games, competitions, merchandise, betting or single club/player services. No use with unofficial audio, video, data, fixtures or club/league logos.

London Daily Telegraph

It was starting to look like the title race nobody wants to win: not one, but three Devon Lochs. As Manchester City traipsed off at half-time with the scoreboard blank and their fans restive, they seemed to be joining Liverpool and Chelsea in a trio of faltering horses.

Chelsea told themselves so many times that they could not win the league that results started to fit their pessimism. A fine defensive win at Anfield put them right back in the chase but then they drew at home with Norwich.

Liverpool were 3-0 up at Crystal Palace on Monday night but went for the cricket score and were blitzed by Tony Pulis' team. In sky-blue Manchester, City's fans were oddly subdued for their penultimate league game. Aston Villa probably expected a cauldron. It was barely a radiator.

It took 64 minutes for the paralysis to lift. Finally, a slipped pass through the Villa blockade brought a sharp cutback by Pablo Zabaleta and close-range finish from Edin Dzeko, a scorer of vital goals whose inconsistency has pushed him down the order here. His 15th of this league season electrified a sullen crowd. 'Blue Moon' floated round the ground.

Finally, the City who seized the trophy on the closing day two summers ago were visible again in the celebrations of the players. Eight minutes later Dzeko was there again for goal No 16 as a Nasri shot rebounded and required only a prod of the Bosnian striker's boot.

Liverpool's nine-minute implosion at Palace was still sharp in the memory on this rainy night in Manchester: Luis Suarez crying and hiding his face in his shirt, Steven Gerrard grimacing, the stillness of the Liverpool fans as Palace celebrated.

From that south London drama of delirium and despair the impetus passed to City to place this title race beyond reasonable doubt. There was a sense – certainly in the quietness of the Etihad Stadium – that the run for the line has lost some of its tension at the end of a campaign that was shaping up to be the best we have witnessed.

To say City were back in charge by default as a result of Liverpool's defeat at home by Chelsea and 3-3 draw at Selhurst Park would be pushing it.

Manuel Pellegrini's side had won 15 of their 17 home league fixtures and scored 96 times in all, surpassing the 93 of their championship-winning year of 2011-12.

Equally they have lost at Cardiff, Aston Villa, Chelsea, Sunderland and Liverpool, as well as falling to Jose Mourinho's hyperactive counter-attackers (as they were back then) in February.

The majesty of City's mid-season play has been seen only intermittently since the 6-0 thrashing of Spurs and the 7-0 trashing of Norwich. We needed a final note of emphasis: proof that City really are the most potent attacking force in the land, rather than Liverpool, with their glittering strike partnership of Daniel Sturridge and Suarez.

As the injured Sergio Aguero looked on moodily in the drizzle, Yaya Toure assumed his usual orchestrator's role. James Milner drove down the right and David Silva and Samir Nasri plotted.

With each tick of the clock City grew more tense. By the break they looked exasperated. Now Pellegrini needed to display a winning character to his players. They needed to come back out animated, implacable, inspired.

For City's fans the only fun to be had before the interval was in taunting Gerrard with a song devised after his tumble in the Chelsea game: "Steve Gerrard, Gerrard, he slips on his f***ing a***, and passes to Demba Ba."

GAMBLE

Schadenfreude is not in short supply at this time of year. All that was lacking was a team to 'own' this title race. Would the champions please take one step forward?

Dzeko's brace, a third from Stevan Jovetic and a fourth from Toure were the answer. Pellegrini claimed not to have watched the Palace game but he was not blind to the moral of Liverpool's late collapse.

With 15 minutes left he withdrew Silva in favour of Fernandinho, the squad's best defensive midfielder. Villa lack the thrust and ambition of Palace but Pellegrini was not about to gamble, though Fernandinho was not slow to take up forward positions ahead of Javi Garcia, the other midfield guard dog.

Villa did rouse themselves in those final eight minutes, and this time Pellegrini called for Alvaro Negredo, a striker, to frighten Paul Lambert's team into submission, in place of Dzeko.

Jovetic has been a bit-part player in this campaign but nobody could say that of Toure, whose surge from the halfway line took him to 20 goals for a midfield.

Like Liverpool, City were true to their instincts, but with much less risk.

What separates the contenders, of course, is the two-point lead held by City, who need only to draw on Sunday with West Ham. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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