Yaya Toure needs to step up for Manchester City
MAN CITY v CSKA MOSCOW
(Tomorrow, 3.45am, SingTel mio TV Ch 111)
In the Manchester Derby, Yaya Toure broke free from his own shadow.
Until last weekend, the Manchester City midfielder had been playing within himself, unable to release the beast that overburdens opponents.
City's driving force and navigator had lost his way, leaving his teammates in the wilderness.
But he found something like his old form against United and needs to wake City from their European slumber against CSKA Moscow tomorrow morning (Singapore time) or their Champions League campaign is as good as over.
If City succumb at the group stages once more, it will be the third premature exit in four seasons.
That's a most unpalatable statistic for the Middle Eastern owners keen on European domination as part of their long-term global charm offensive.
The world's richest club cannot be so woeful on the continental stage again, surely.
Manchester City managers have been sacked for less.
But the side's fluctuating fortunes tend to follow the mercurial form of their most prized midfielder.
With a gazelle's gait and the firing range of a blunderbuss, Toure was a towering inferno in two successful domestic campaigns, blazing a trail to Premier League glory.
But the midfield monster was surprisingly mild-mannered in Europe, blotting his otherwise flawless copybook.
Like Eric Cantona at United, his Manchester career has a faint cross rather than a tick in his Champions League box.
It's been an unwanted subplot in an otherwise spellbinding City narrative.
His night to forget in Munich, where City went down 1-0, neatly summarised his shortcomings in the Champions League. Like City generally, something gets lots in the translation once Toure steps onto a foreign field.
But then, the Ivorian has laboured for much of the season, his inconsistency once again mirrored by his teammates.
At West Ham, in particular, he shrank in the presence of Alex Song and went AWOL.
He looked listless and lethargic, a guileless imposter wearing the jersey of a midfielder who scored 20 Premier League goals last season.
The lack of a consistent partner hasn't helped, with Fernando, Fernandinho and Frank Lampard all popping up at some point, and Manuel Pellegrini's 4-4-2 formation can encourage nimble opponents to slip between the lines.
But still, Toure operated on autopilot. He drifted through games rather than dominated, like a distracted man running through treacle. He was hardly a mouse in midfield, but he was no longer quite so mighty either.
Until the Manchester Derby came along.
Toure found his game the moment he found Gael Clichy with that superb pass at the Etihad, seemingly rediscovering his underrated GPS range and his unerring ability to change the course of games.
He tackled. He tracked back. He took charge.
City's beauty and the beast were back. Whether the derby marked a permanent return or a fleeting cameo will be determined by tomorrow morning's game against CSKA.
Toure can scrub out the unwanted Champions League asterisk that hangs over both his name and that of Man City.
Both club and midfielder must deliver or another overseas adventure will be done and dusted before the Christmas decorations go up across Europe.
With David Silva ruled out, Toure's creativity becomes more important than his renowned industry. His killer instinct might be required less than a killer pass. He must play both magician and motivator.
With City's European expedition on life support, a victory buys breathing space for his manager.
After the defeat in Munich and two insipid draws with Roma and CSKA Moscow, Pellegrini has been caught doing the Time Warp. Like Roberto Mancini before him, the Chilean's tactical intransigence has proved costly.
Crafty European opponents tug at the loose edges of his fraying lines of 4-4-2 until holes appear. Initially, the formation gives the impression of a defensive, muscular superiority, but Roma exposed City's frailties and CSKA overcame a two-goal deficit to pinch a draw.
Recent history cannot repeat itself again. It's a familiar storyline City fans tire of hearing. Their side's tactical naivety and exasperating lack of flexibility have been cruelly exposed in three of the last four seasons.
Pellegrini's men desperately crave a global pedigree, but continue to fall at the first Champions League hurdle. International respect must be seized. It's not the birthright of a big bank account.
Toure must show that the multi-millionaires have the makings of serious European campaigners against the Muscovites.
If they don't wake up, they risk slipping into a season-long nightmare.
City will be tagged the real specialists in Champions League failure.
Police probe Toure abuse on Twitter
The police are investigating claims that Yaya Toure was racially abused within hours of reactivating his Twitter account.
Manchester City midfielder Toure rejoined Twitter on Monday, five months after leaving the social network site in order to focus on the World Cup.
The Ivory Coast international posted his first tweet at 6pm, reflecting on City's derby win over Manchester United the previous day.
He wrote: "Great to be back on twitter after a good win yesterday. Now my focus is on the next game... Happy Monday everyone!!"
Within hours of posting the message, the 31-year-old received abusive and racist messages from other Twitter accounts.
Anti-discrimination group Kick It Out was appalled by some of the tweets and decided to report the matter to the police.
"NEWS: We are informing the Police of racist tweets directed @yayatoure earlier this evening and offer him our full support #kickitout," KIO posted on Twitter.
A Kick It Out spokesperson told Press Association Sport on Monday night: "At this stage, we have received complaints about two separate tweets of a racist nature aimed at Yaya Toure and now we are informing the police.
"Yaya Toure has been on Twitter for a matter of hours and he has already received abuse of an appalling nature. We are disturbed by the fact that someone can be treated this way.
"It makes footballers start to question why they should use these platforms.
"We will offer Yaya Toure our full support."
This is not the first time Toure has been the target of racist abuse.
Last season, he was subjected to racist chanting during City's Champions League game at CSKA Moscow.
"I'm not just disappointed, I'm furious," Toure said after City's 2-1 win in Russia. "It was unbelievable and very sad."
CSKA denied Toure had been abused, but Uefa disagreed and ordered the Russian club to close part of their ground for their next Champions League match.
Meanwhile, Man City defender Aleksandar Kolarov has been ruled out for a month with a calf injury, manager Manuel Pellegrini revealed yesterday.
The Serbia left back (above) was injured in the warm-up before last Sunday's derby victory over Man United.
Kolarov is now set to miss Champions League fixtures against CSKA Moscow tomorrow morning (Singapore time) and Bayern Munich as well as Premier League games against QPR, Swansea and Southampton this month.
Pellegrini said: "Kolarov has an important muscle injury in his calf so he will be at least one month. Well, I am not a doctor, but I suppose that."
Defender Eliaquim Mangala is available after missing the derby but midfielders Frank Lampard and David Silva are still sidelined.
Former England international Lampard had been hopeful of returning after missing four games with a thigh problem but the weekend trip to QPR looks a more likely target.
Lampard, 36, has been missed by City in recent weeks, having made a big impact since signing on loan from sister club New York City until January.
There has been speculation over whether City could seek to extend his stay and even a report that the ex-Chelsea star has already signed a deal until the end of the season.
But Pellegrini suggested such reports are premature by reiterating the position both he and Lampard have spoken of, that no decision has yet been made.
Pellegrini said: "Frank Lampard is injured, so when he recovers we can talk about that issue.
"We can see what happens in December. We have until December to decide." - PA Sport.