Belfast Telegraph

Manchester City are relying heavily on toure de force

Pellegrini goes on the defensive over Yaya

By Ian Herbert

Manuel Pellegrini is not likely to linger in as long an embrace with Yaya Toure as the one Pep Guardiola was pressed into by the player in Munich on Wednesday night, but the Manchester City squad will tell you that professional empathy is one of the qualities he rates highly.

He launched an impassioned defence of Toure yesterday, which included an admission that the player's struggle to deal with the death of his brother had probably caused his poor start to the season.

The City manager's discussion of the Ivorian, which included the surprising claim that he still sees him best deployed as one of the side's two holding midfielders, included a complaint that Toure is "always being criticised" and that he needed support.

"I think that Yaya is a player that makes a difference in big games," Pellegrini said, as his City side seek to avoid the eight-point deficit which defeat at home to Chelsea tomorrow would bring.

"Maybe some of you think it's strange why he is not in the best moment, but we started the season and maybe he had a lot of personal problems with his brother; not what was said in the media, but in what he feels about it and there are a lot of human things and maybe that is why he is not in his best performance at the moment.

"I think as a team, as a coach, as a club we must support him because he is a very important player, he makes a difference and I'm sure he will return to his best, but he is always being criticised."

That "what was said in the media" related to Toure's suggestion in France Football that he was denied the chance to be at his brother's bedside in Manchester's Christie Hospital, because of City's insistence he travel with them to Abu Dhabi, post-season.

Despite all that Pellegrini said about the depth of the tragedy which has befallen the Toures, the question about his contentment at City is legitimate. Toure will not be delighted that he has not been the beneficiary of what was a summer of longer term new contracts for the core players in City's side – Vincent Kompany, Sergio Aguero, David Silva, Samir Nasri, Aleksandr Kolarov and Edin Dzeko.

An element of City's thinking may be choreographic – not wanting Toure to be seen to hold them to ransom for a better, longer deal with his bizarre allegation that City had failed to observe his birthday properly – but the club actually feel they have no good reason to extend a renewed four-year contract which was only signed in April last year and will take Toure up to the age of 33.

There are few in football who challenge the notion that Toure' struggle with the defensive component of the midfield anchor role makes him better suited to an advanced position, with Fernandinho and new £12m acquisition Fernando also behind him.

Paul Scholes observed that Toure's struggle against Bayern Munich on Wednesday had foisted the job of two men onto Fernandinho.

Pellegrini disagreed – publicly, at least – that the player should shift further up the field.

"Why do you want to change Yaya into another position?" he said.

"He was the best player in that position last year and you want to change his position?

"Maybe there will be a possibility to play in some way with Yaya, Fernando and Fernandinho, because Yaya can play in both positions, but I'm not waiting for Fernando to change Yaya's position."

Fernando, who has a groin injury, was bought precisely for the European holding role which will release Toure higher up the field.

The nature of this conversation was timely, given that it was against Jose Mourinho's side at the Etihad last season that Toure's failure to provide ballast allowed Nemanja Matic to flourish and contributed to City losing the midfield battle – and the game.

It will be a different story tomorrow. Fernandinho, injured in the warm-up before last season's Etihad game, is likely to feature this time and will be significant.

Pellegrini made the surprising revelation that 23-year-old Eliaquim Mangala is still not ready for the Premier League, despite City this summer laying out £40m for him, split between Porto, the ownership fund Doyen and another called Robi Plus, with agency fees on top.

"He needs some time to understand the way we defend," said Pellegrini, who will persist with Martin Demichelis, who put in a fine performance alongside Vincent Kompany in Munich.

"Kompany and Demichelis are in a very good moment. I think the competition is very good, but not only is this about the competition why he doesn't play, I repeat: he must know the way we defend as it is not similar to other teams."

Pellegrini, who said Edin Dzeko was suffering a back problem and a doubt for tomorrow, declined to discuss FA chairman Greg Dyke's reported consideration of regulations cutting the number of players from outside the EU in each squad by 50%.

"I think it was maybe the same reply about that opinion last year," he said.

"The solution for Manchester City is to win the title with just one player."

There was a time when it could almost have been said that Toure is that man.

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