January an old nemesis for Manchester City - Yaya Toure and AFCON duties
Back in December, it looked like Chelsea would disappear in the title race – take the frightening 8-point lead they had over the defending champions Manchester City, add the fact that City did not have any recognised strikers available. Yet City coped remarkably, winning six out of seven fixtures, with James Milner leading the line at times.
Without Sergio Aguero, Edin Dzeko and Stefan Jovetic, December was a test City cleared with flying colours, as Chelsea seemed to lose steam. But as always, a tougher test was waiting for them at the turn of the year.
Every year, their midfield engine Yaya Toure leaves for the African Cup Of Nations, where he captains his national side Ivory Coast. His Cup commitments have somewhat derailed Manchester City’s seasons in recent years. It is not the lack of strike force, but the unavailability of Toure in midfield which haunts City every January. Before leaving, the fourth consecutive African Player of the Year scored six times in his last eight games. Remove those goals and the title race is all but over.
City have not won in league without Toure since April 2014
Toure was sorely missed during the PL campaigns of 2012-13 and 2013-14 as well, ultimately forcing City to bring in Fernandinho and a year later, Fernando and even Frank Lampard, to cope with his absence during these months. It seems though that he is irreplaceable.
He is the team’s go-to man whenever trouble brews. He is the one giving influential performances every now and then, opening up stubborn defences, and ultimately also scoring goals to rescue City’s day. Manuel Pellegrini might say that his unavailability is not the reason City's unable to perform and pick up points. The stats have a different story to tell.
Not just January, put Toure out of the equation, and City have not won a single Premier League game since April last year. If Ivory Coast reach the finals of the AFCON, which everyone expects, Toure will miss as many as four games in the Premier League, an FA cup tie, and possibly will not be there to welcome Lionel Messi and the Barcelona boys when they visit The Etihad on 24th February for their first leg of Champions League match.
City need a worthy successor to midfield general
Titles are never won in January or February, but it is often said that they are lost in this phase. Considering the track record City has without him on the field, such an absence will undo all the good work the team has done recently, and could even leave a barren cabinet come the end of the season.
Even at 31, Yaya Toure defines City’s season. While it is a matter of pride for City fans to think that he is irreplaceable, it’s equally worrying for them not to be able to find the next Yaya Toure. Few can fill his shoes when he leaves or perhaps retires at City, but the quicker City find one, the better it is for them.