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Yaya Toure Prises Open Aston Villa Defence To Earn Manchester City Win

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IN an instant, Manchester City were transported back to last season. Yaya Touré was scoring again, the supporters were singing his name and Manuel Pellegrini’s team were producing the sort of result that served as a reminder why they became champions in the first place. Frustration has been a familiar feeling for them in a stuttering title defence and, after 81 minutes, a second stalemate of the embryonic campaign beckoned.

Then Touré intervened. Twenty yards out, confronted by a phalanx of defenders, he accepted Fernando’s pass and bent his shot between Alan Hutton and Philippe Senderos. Aston Villa’s resistance was ended. So, with it, was Touré’s drought. His previous league goal came against the same opponents in May; it was a landmark strike, making the Ivorian only the second central midfielder of the Premier League era to register 20 in a season, a formidable achievement that was followed by a fallow period.

A belated first against top-flight opposition in five months brought the loudest chorus of Touré’s name in that time. If relations were soured over the summer by the unnecessary furore his agent, Dimitri Seluk, created, with his bizarre accusation that City did not even provide a cake to celebrate his client’s birthday, they are undergoing a repair now. His goal might be said to represent the icing on the cake for Pellegrini, who handled a difficult situation diplomatically. “I think it was a misunderstanding,” the Chilean claimed, downplaying the farrago in typical fashion and attributing Touré’s substandard start to the season to the summer loss of his brother, Ibrahim.

A goal marked a return to form. Perhaps as significantly, a midfielder often accused of neglecting his defensive duties had slid in to make a fine block and take the sting off Andreas Weimann’s shot on one of Villa’s few attacks. “He can be criticised for one or two weeks but I know perfectly the way he thinks and the way he can play so I never had a problem about that,” added Pellegrini. City’s problems were diminishing by the time Sergio Agüero delivered his sixth goal of the season, the Argentinean rifling in a shot after he was found by James Milner.

“For 81 minutes, the lads were excellent,” stated Paul Lambert, the Aston Villa manager. It was a day when his defence and the woodwork were allies in an admirable rearguard action. Brad Guzan did not have a save to make until the second half, but his back four were overworked. Nathan Baker produced a masterclass in defensive defiance, excelling with a series of blocks to cap his renaissance, and Aly Cissokho hacked off his line to deny Edin Dzeko. It was the culmination of a well-worked set-piece, with Milner finding David Silva, who crossed for the Bosnian.

It was another indication of the Englishman’s influence. Milner was the instigator of many of City’s finer chances, playing with trademark persistence and no little skill. One pass, when Agüero hit the base of the upright, was Silva-esque. It was the second time City had hit the post. Aleksandar Kolarov clipped it with a typically ferocious shot from an acute angle.

“I was thinking that this was not our day,” Pellegrini confessed. But his side were relentless. It amounted to a fine response to difficulty. Silva grew in prominence in the final half-hour as Guzan became busier and Villa could not quite hang on.

They adopted their tried-and-trusted tactics against the elite, of playing without possession and springing quick counter-attacks. It was a ploy that threatened to work as Charles N’Zogbia spun away from Fernandinho and sprinted 40 yards to unleash a shot that whistled past the post. Then, seconds after Agüero struck wood, N’Zogbia released Kieran Richardson, who was thwarted by Joe Hart. “If you get a chance, you have to take it,” said Lambert, whose side have still only scored four league goals.

At least Christian Benteke returned as a substitute after six months on the sidelines with a ruptured Achilles tendon. However, an attacking boost followed a striking disappointment, as the ill Gabby Agbonlahor pulled out after the warm up, and fortune has not favoured them. “I have never known a run like this,” said the Scot, whose side have faced last season’s top four in consecutive games. “The fixtures have been pretty unkind.” – The Guardian

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