Changing role of Yaya Toure a sign of Man City’s evolution

David Silva has attracted much of the praise for Manchester City’s fine start to the new Premier League campaign, but the form of the Spaniard, and the arrivals of Samir Nasri and Sergio Aguero, have had a further effect than just propelling Roberto Mancini’s side up the table. The presence of the three attackers behind striker Edin Dzeko has seen Yaya Toure adapt to a different role than last season.

Having previously been City’s attacking battering ram, and the principal support to Carlos Tevez, Toure now plays a much more orthodox role. Joining Gareth Barry as a two-man midfield against Napoli on Wednesday evening, the emphasis for Toure is now far greater on the defensive side of the game, albeit still with room to attack, so rampant have City been at times. It is Toure’s changing position, however, that most epitomises what is different about the City team of 2011-12 to the one a year earlier.

From a less than subtle pair of Toure and Tevez, City have switched to the well-rounded skill of Dzeko backed up by the exciting trio of Nasri, Silva and Aguero. The Toure-Tevez axis was successful – grabbing 10 goals for the former and 24 for the latter – and the presence of converted holding midfielder Toure gave City a solid spine, with the Blues conceding four fewer goals than their cross-city cousins, and Premier League winners, Manchester United. But the partnership lacked the invention to break down the division’s more determined defences, with City scoring the fewest goals of any of the teams in the top four.

The spectacular performances in the Premier League – victories of 4-0, 3-2, 5-1 and 3-0 giving City a goal tally eclipsed only by Man Utd – are the plus side of the attacking trio supporting City’s lone striker, but the negative was perhaps seen against Napoli. Marek Hamsik capitalised on Christian Maggio’s burst through the City midfield, something he may not have been able to do a year earlier if Toure lined up with Gareth Barry and Nigel de Jong behind him. It is conjecture, of course, but City were rarely sliced open in such a way with last season’s midfield unit on the pitch.

Such is the balance Mancini is trying to find. The right mix of attacking threat and defensive solidity is the aim of every manager but in Toure, the City boss has a player capable of offering both at once. Yet, the sort of quasi-attacking role given to Toure last season led to a City side set up mostly to grind out results, rather than take hold of a game and blitz the opposition as the current version, with Aguero the principal support to Dzeko, has domestically.

The experiences of Napoli’s rapid counter-attacks in City’s Champions League debut may see Toure moved back to his all-action role when Mancio takes his team across the continent, but the travails of the draw with the Italian side and next month’s Manchester derby mean City’s tactical evolution is not complete yet.

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