Yaya Toure has been a brilliant signing for Manchester City. Last season he was arguably their best player as they charged towards the title, scoring 20 league goals. The Ivorian has had some detractors, which is harsh as he’s clearly one of the top Premier League players. City missed him badly when he was at Afcon duty and there is no doubt that they are worse off without him in the side.
In the Premier League he has thrived this season also, generally playing as a central midfielder in a 4-4-2. City have been dominating games so they do not need to worry as much about Toure’s defensive contribution. He can roam free as the side average 60% possession per game, more than any other side. Thus it’s not a problem if he runs forward to join the attack as he is invited to do so when the side are on the ball, which is most of the time.
In Europe the 4-4-2 isn’t quite as good. Manchester City enjoy less of the ball and average just 51% possession. Against FC Barcelona we can expect them to enjoy less than half of the share of the ball. FC Barcelona are the sort of side that dominate in this regard and have averaged 66% possession in Europe this season, second only to Bayern Munich in the possession table.
This makes the 4-4-2 far more precarious. Toure has to do a lot more without the ball, in terms of plugging gaps and tracking opposition players. This isn’t the best part of his game, despite the fact that he regularly featured as a defensive midfielder when he was at Barcelona. Toure is more of an attacking player now. This is one of the main reasons he has struggled to replicate his league form in Europe.
Manuel Pellegrini is probably better off opting for a 4-2-3-1 formation or 4-5-1 than going with the 4-4-2 that City have tended to use. Yaya Toure could play in behind Sergio Aguero with a midfield pairing of Fernandinho and James Milner to solidify things in the centre of the park. Toure can then sit in front of the pair and focus on orchestrating counter-attacks with his powerful running. and generally focus on the attacking side of his game, rather than trying to keep up with Barcelona midfield runners, who will likely easily exploit the space if Toure plays in a midfield two. This just doesn’t suit him.
It is not so much that he is ‘over-rated’ as he is a top class midfielder, but more to do with tactics and the way in which City are unable to dominate in Europe as they are in the Premier League. When City have less possession Toure is unable to assert himself and his key attributes as willingly. Toure can do it but it would take a tweak in tactics. Even if he doesn’t do it against Barcelona in the return leg that is not to say that he is not a top player, because he really is.