Yaya Toure frozen out for 'sporting' reasons as Pep urges Man City to rise to occasion
There was as much intrigue around the exclusion of Yaya Toure from Manchester City's squad yesterday as the inclusion of Ederson.
The goalkeeper will wear a protective skull cap should he start against Feyenoord in the Champions League tonight, four days after requiring eight stitches to the sickening facial wound suffered at the boot of Liverpool's Sadio Mane. Toure, however, will definitely play no part against the Dutch champions.
Left in Manchester having yet to play a minute for City this season, Pep Guardiola said it was down to Toure to force his way back into his first-team plans after cryptically claiming he "knows the reason why" he has been frozen out.
Guardiola refused to disclose any more details, other than to say it was a "sporting decision", but while the latest twist in the curious dynamic between the pair will doubtless throw up more interesting developments in the weeks to come, it really should not distract from the bigger picture.
This is City's seventh successive season in the Champions League and, for all Guardiola's tendency to talk about the club almost as minnows in European terms, the time has come for them to step up.
Manchester United won the Champions League in their fifth season in the competition under its current guise, Liverpool in their third. Guardiola will argue that both had a rich European pedigree before then but Chelsea, English football's other nouveau riche, did not and they graced three semi- finals in their first five seasons in Europe's premier club competition and the final at the sixth before winning it in their 10th.
City have got beyond the last 16 only once in their previous six appearances. They fell at the first knockout round last season, too, when Guardiola's tactics in the second leg against Monaco, setting the team up as if they were the ones chasing a two-goal deficit, not holding a 5-3 lead, would probably have invited pelters had his predecessor, Manuel Pellegrini, presided over something similar. It is a Champions League record comparable to Arsenal's struggles to make an impact, at least until they clawed their way to the final in 2006, eight years after their first foray into the competition.
"We are Man City, we have to win our respect in Europe," Guardiola said, shortly after declaring that it was "a dream to be here again for a club like Manchester City". That is probably true in the case of Feyenoord, who were last in the Champions League 14 years ago, but Guardiola shot down a Dutch reporter who asked whether this would be an easy start for City.
"Why?" Guardiola asked. "Feyenoord have more titles than Manchester City. History counts."
It is easy to understand that Guardiola could be whimsical about Holland, a sort of spiritual home for him, and he was happily reminiscing about life at Barcelona under his mentor, the Dutch master Johan Cruyff. "I remember coming to Rotterdam for a pre-season. He had us running and running in the forest, and sometimes playing football. I grew up loving the Holland culture, how they play. I was lucky. I was a football player working with my idol Johan Cruyff and after that Louis van Gaal. There were a lot of Holland players in the team."
accustomed There were but the Jan-Arie van der Heijdens of this world are, with all respect, several levels below the Ronald Koemans that Guardiola was accustomed to and the reality is City should have far too much for Feyenoord, even if Manchester United did come unstuck here in the Europa League last season.
Feyenoord's task has not been helped by the absence of first-choice striker Nicolai Jorgensen through injury. Guardiola, though, was circumspect about City's chances, even if a group also containing Shakhtar Donetsk and Napoli looks eminently winnable.
"I don't know if we are able to compete to win the titles," he said. "We are still in the process to grow up. We can do better than last season, but I don't know. It depends on our level. I know how complicated it is. Last season we did not win one game away. The quality is there. The only difference at Barcelona and Bayern Munich is that the players had played in the Champions League many more times before than the players at Manchester City right now."
Guardiola did make an interesting point about the positive impact Spain winning the European Championship in 2008 had on so many players at Barcelona and, in turn, their performances in the Champions League. "That cup was so important to win for that generation," he said, adding that England may need something similar to get back on top in Europe. "I think the English teams are a step back in that respect - the [lack of] titles and the way they play, the self-confidence, shows that. The step for the English teams - club and national teams - is to do that, win one, or be close." (© Daily Telegraph, London)
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