Pellegrini must give tired Toure a break
Pellegrini must make tough call and drop tired skipper Toure
SEMI-FINAL, 1ST LEG
(Ramiro Funes Mori 45+1, Romelu Lukaku 78)
MAN CITY 1
(Jesus Navas 76)
Indiana Jones said it best. It's not the years. It's the mileage.
Yaya Toure is three years younger than Gareth Barry, but played like a man three years older yesterday morning (Singapore time).
Watching the Ivorian wheeze his way around Goodison Park evoked memories of Muhammad Ali insisting he still had the legs against Larry Holmes. He still had one more round.
And Toure most certainly does. His three goals in four games before the first-leg defeat by Everton offered tantalising glimpses of an imperious footballer, a truly imposing midfield presence, struggling with his greatest opponents - time and motion.
He's expected to beat the clock with blunt tools.
Missing the wood for the trees, City manager Manuel Pellegrini had earlier rounded on Toure's critics, pointing out that the club's worst performance - the 2-0 loss at Stoke - came when the Ivorian was injured.
Toure rarely rests. He insists on playing every game. His mentality deserves credit rather than petty criticisms, according to his manager.
But Pellegrini put forward a naive proposition. He sounded like a cowering corner man unwilling to throw the towel in because his boxer believes he still has a puncher's chance of victory.
In praising his stand-in skipper, Pellegrini undermined himself. He was ignoring what the eye could see and bowing to a proud man's prejudiced judgment.
Toure is clearly a natural leader in decline, a slowing prizefighter stumbling, but clinging on to the hope of a dramatic points victory.
Against Arsenal and Watford, the misguided optimism just about paid off.
His dramatic cameos against both clubs temporarily masked his shortcomings. He was otherwise anonymous, carried through the contests either by the goals or by Fernandinho.
Much the same happened at Everton, only without the goals.
Roberto Martinez squeezed Barry, Tom Cleverley and Muhamed Besic into central midfield. Everton targeted City's obvious weak link.
Toure has unwittingly become the exhaust port in the Death Star. Everton navigated their way through the gap before firing off a torpedo in the guise of Romelu Lukaku.
Fernandinho has so often found himself in the media stocks and pounded by rotten tomatoes, but the criticism now looks misjudged. He's simply overworked.
He was a two-for-one tackler at Goodison Park, a surreal cross between a nightclub doorman and Gandalf in his efforts to stop Ross Barkley, Barry and Leighton Baines from passing.
His sterling efforts were noble, but a tiring exercise in futility.
Barry and Barkley were brilliant, combining well throughout, largely because Toure was a non-entity. He had slipped into Besic's pocket for a gentle snooze and was rarely seen again.
Pellegrini was alive to the sleeping spanner in his works and tweaked the formation twice, but to no avail.
Toure began the semi-final in a loose No. 10 role behind Sergio Aguero and was then pulled back into central midfield, in the desperate hope that he might do more damage to Everton and less to City.
Neither move worked.
Watching Toure lumber around like a panting grandfather chasing a toddler's beach ball was one of the most dispiriting images of the season.
The chest heaved as a frustrated competitor struggled to come to terms with his mutinous body.
Toure's monstrous gifts are now conspiring against him. That tall, muscular torso atop those long, giraffe-like limbs once allowed him to pull away from opponents.
Now he appears leggy and top-heavy. The nifty and nimble Besic taunted him throughout.
Even Barry, a midfielder once considered surplus to requirements at City, displayed more enthusiasm and a bigger engine. He's 35 next month.
To a certain extent, Toure is a victim of both his own success and his unfortunate body language.
His 23 goals in City's euphoric title-winning season in 2013-14 became an unfair yardstick to beat him with. Artistic and athletic perfection cannot be made to order.
His languid running style also gave the unfair impression of a footballer functioning on autopilot.
Even if he isn't a beaten man, he certainly looks an exhausted one, which suggest the fault lies not with the midfielder, but his manager.
Pellegrini insists Toure needs a rest, but doesn't give him one.
Whether the Chilean continues to pick Toure to satisfy his player's demands or because he lacks an able deputy, it's a damning indictment of the manager either way.
Rather than throw in the towel, Pellegrini must at least grant his dizzy midfielder time to clear his head.
Toure's decline may be irreversible, but he deserves a chance to keep his dignity.
BY THE NUMBERS
Roberto Martinez has won just his second game against Manchester City as a manager, the other being the 2013 FA Cup final.
- EVERTON: Joel Robles, Seamus Coleman, John Stones, Ramiro Funes Mori, Leighton Baines, Tom Cleverley (Leon Osman 46), Gareth Barry, Muhamed Besic, Gerard Deulofeu (Kevin Mirallas 68), Ross Barkley, Romelu Lukaku (Arouna Kone 82)
- MAN CITY: Willy Caballero, Bacary Sagna, Eliaquim Mangala (Martin Demichelis 46), NIcolas Otamendi, Gael Clichy, Fernandinho, Fabian Delph (Jesus Navas 54), Yaya Toure, Kevin de Bruyne (Fernando 90), David Silva, Sergio Aguero