Yaya Toure (middle) battles with Leicester City’s Shinji Okazaki (right). Photo credits: (left image) and (right image)

When manager Pep Guardiola of Manchester City saw his favored defensive midfielder, Ilkay Gundogan, go down with an injury early into his first managerial campaign in the Premier League, he was forced to make a reshuffle. And the reshuffling has not stopped. Yet, despite all the moving pieces (particularly at right back), a seed that has remained planted in the team has been midfielder Yaya Toure.

In the 4–1–4–1, Yaya Toure acted as the buffer between his defense and midfielders David Silva and Kevin De Bruyne in front of him. With so many more creative players in front of him, he rarely had hope of making runs forward. Even when the team held possession of the ball in and around the box, he clung to the periphery allowing the wingers to whip in crosses freely and the midfielders in front of him to work their magic.

When he had that breakout season in 2013–2014, when he made it into the Premier League Team of the Season with 20 goals, he was the one getting into the box and bullying defenders and receiving clever through balls. Now the role has instead been moved to Silva and De Bruyne: smaller, trickier players on the ball.

Leading up to Leicester’s first goal, Silva, who for most of the first half roamed on the left side so he could exploit his incomparable left foot, drifted over to the right instead when the ball was lofted over to left midfielder Leroy Sane on the left. Silva, unmarked, then trailed behind the Brazilian Manchester City striker Gabriel Jesus and was found by Sane and side footed an awkward shot from 10 yards out.

And where was Toure for that goal. Nowhere to be seen. He couldn’t move out from the back.

Toure normally shuttled from left to right in front of the center backs. For much of the first half, he ran up towards one of his defenders on the ball and redistributed the ball with much movement to someone else.

Furthermore, after sending a pass, he’d often turn around and hold down the center back spot, rooted at the back.

When he came to the ball, there was a massive gap in the middle of the field.

Theoretically, the space would allow some of the creative players to brew something special. But I questioned how much space there was there if a pass were to be misplaced.

I don’t know if I’d tell him to fill that gap, though, either. His age has caused him to lose the agility, ball control, and passing of players more valuable in Pep’s eyes such as Silva and De Bruyne.

On one counterattack, Toure was free to dribble the ball upfield and crossed the halfway line, occupying that huge gap I spoke about. He saw Sterling making the diagonal run behind the Leicester back line, but his weighted pass was too far over and in front of Raheem Sterling, allowing the keeper, Kasper Schmeichel, to come out and clear his lines.

For a position that Toure holds, you’ve got to have everything: passing, movement, agility, speed. A French defensive midfielder who plays for Chelsea comes to mind.

Part of the problem with their team is that they’ve been forced to play around with six different right-backs because Pep can’t make up his mind, and Fernandinho, who played there Saturday, could perhaps be the solution for the future. Or maybe Gundogan will adapt nicely to the role. But as the 1 in the 4–1–4–1, you best do the job, and Toure, until he leaves, will not be a viable lone midfielder option.

Moral of the story: find a replacement for him.

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