The last we’ll see of Manchester City legend Yaya Toure at the Etihad came in a 3-1 victory against Brighton that edged the team one victory away from the 100 point total for the season. I didn’t think I would but I couldn’t help but tear up a bit when Yaya was taken off in the 86th minute. He hasn’t been a major contributor this season but he’s been crucial in much of the success this team has had over the past decade. There really is not enough thanks that can be given for the contributions Yaya Toure has made to Manchester City.
And in his final home game, it really was the Yaya show. The crowd was energetically singing his song all match long and the lineup Pep Guardiola put out was tailor-made for Toure to succeed. Nine changes were made from the Huddersfield match last weekend but the quality on the field was as good as ever. Yaya Toure played the opening 45 minutes as the holding midfielder in a midfield three along with Fernandinho and Ilkay Gundogan pushed forward. Pairing the Ivorian with two defensively strong midfielders took stress off Yaya to expend energy disrupting counterattacks and recovering on defense.
Furthermore, Pep had his fullbacks, Oleksandr Zinchenko and Danilo, tuck inside and sit next to Toure on defense. All of this allowed Yaya to save his energy and play late into the game (“work smart, not hard”), something he hasn’t done in quite some time. He definitely has lost some pace and energy from his younger days, but Yaya showed the intelligence and strength that City fans have become so familiar with over the last 8 seasons.
Without City’s primary playmakers, Kevin De Bruyne and David Silva, in the lineup, the attack was focused down the wings where Leroy Sane and Bernardo Silva were given the responsibility of creation. Gabriel Jesus dropped into the midfield frequently in order to compress the defense before moving possession out wide, but his first touch let him down for much of the match and often left City scrambling to recover comfortable control. Fernandinho and Gundogan shuttled in and out of the box as running options on the near and far post while Yaya Toure lurked centrally outside the box. He was primarily a pivoting point for switching the attack from side to side with an eye towards goal if the opportunity came up (unfortunately it didn’t).
In the second half, he switched positions with Fernandinho and stepped forward into the attacking midfield. It was clear how badly everyone wanted to get him a goal but it just did not come to fruition. The play worked through him often in the attacking third but Brighton was compact when City had prolonged possession and Yaya had a hard time exposing space in the defense. He eventually came off late in the game for youngster Lukas Nmecha when it became clear that he didn’t have any more in the tank.
Overall, the Sky Blues were fantastic on the day and the one blemish came from a Brighton counter that coincided with some disjointed transitional defense and a mistake from Claudio Bravo. Brighton were relatively aggressive and showed a willingness to step forward as a team and even attempted to play it out of the back at times. Of course this left them more vulnerable to City’s attack and it ultimately resulted in three being put in the back of the net. It was an efficient, fluid attack from City with much credit due to Leroy Sane, who was by far the best player on the pitch.
Sane had the assists on all three goals, the first of which was just a tremendous combination of speed and skill that saw him tear through multiple levels of the Brighton squad before finding Danilo with a nice through ball. The second goal came on a quick strike from City when Brighton had lost its shape. The backline had shifted too much to one side and caused right back Bruno to take one step too many centrally towards the ball while Sane ran down the flank. Bruno getting caught in the center of the pitch gave Sane too much time once the ball found its way out to him and he was able to send a low cross into the box unimpeded that fell to the feet of Bernardo, who expertly slotted it home. The final assist was simply a function of great awareness from him and Gundogan on a quick corner in which Brighton turned off and left Sane on the endline unmarked. He found Fernandinho cutting him near the top of the box for the goal that put the game away.
All in all, this game was about Yaya and Pep was absolutely correct in his assessment that the team was going to play for him. Yaya Toure will always be one of my personal favorites and I can not say how lucky I feel to have been able to root for him for so long. The send off for the City legend was wonderful and the post-game ceremony made it even more clear how much we’re going to miss this player. Yaya Toure, you will always be appreciated here.