Dec 8, 2012, 8:19 AM EDT
Three finalists for 2012′s African Player of the Year were announced this week, though one candidate’s case makes him the clear favorite for the award. While Didier Drogba inspired in leading Chelsea to Champions League glory and Alex Song had his best year as a pro for Arsenal (mostly), neither player’s influence matched Yaya Touré’s. Though Robin van Persie’s goal totals won him last season’s major individual Premier League honors, Touré was the best player in the league, a dominating presence in the middle of the park that help capture Manchester City’s first Premier League title.
It’s no surprise Michael Cox, writing for the Guardian, picks out Touré when discussing keys to Sunday’s Manchester Derby. Against Manchester United, the Ivorian can be particularly influential against a team whose main weakness lie in the middle of the park.
Cox discusses Alex Ferguson’s options matching up with Touré in deep midfield, but it’s when Touré comes forward that Manchester City’s most effective. That Touré can start deep and still have a determining factor in the attacking phase (or, pushed forward later in matches) is part of what makes him an elite player. It’s also why relying on a forward to mark him (as, Cox illustrates, United has done in the past) is difficult to pull off. Touré can win most of those individual battles, and when he doesn’t, his movement forward pulls one of your attackers too far upfield.
Defensively, it’s better to concede Touré’s influence higher up the pitch and use a midfielder to pick up him as he ventures forward (something that almost requires playing three in the middle versus City). This is where Manchester United may miss a player like Anderson. The Brazilian midfielder has the strength and athleticism to compete with Touré, but sidelined with a hamstring injury, Anderson will miss tomorrow’s match. Ferguson’s other midfield options — Michael Carrick, Darren Fletcher, Paul Scholes, and Tom Cleverley — all beg a forward, Wayne Rooney, to come back into the picture.
Depending on how United set up, they may be able to dedicate Rooney to the role without undo damage to their attack. Ferguson has used a midfield diamond at various points throughout the season. If he plays Rooney at the top of that diamond, United can afford to have Rooney follow Touré deep into the defensive zone knowing the speed of Ashley Young and/or Antonio Valencia can bring van Persie and Javier Hernández back into the game.
Valencia, however, presents another option, one Ferguson’s highly unlikely to use. For Ecuador, the nominal right winger has player through the middle. In England, he’s ill-equipped to do so from an attacking perspective, but Touré’s presence (and Manchester City’s dependence on it) might justify giving Valencia the role Park Ji-Sung tried to perform last October. With his speed and strength, could Valencia be the man to help mitigate Touré?
We’ll likely never know. At least, not tomorrow. The most likely scenario sees Ferguson trust Rooney to stymy Touré, though as Cox points out, there are drawbacks to that plan, too.
His preview’s worth the quick read.
Apr 15, 2014, 11:10 PM EDT
Mexico’s top two teams reach halftime of their two-legged final, with leg two kickoff next Wednesday in Toluca.
Apr 15, 2014, 9:42 PM EDT
The top four remain unchanged, while Houston, New England, and Portland make big shifts on this week’s chart.
Apr 15, 2014, 7:58 PM EDT
Thoughts from NBCSN’s analysts as will as footage from Rodgers’, Martínez’s speeches at Anfield.
Apr 15, 2014, 7:02 PM EDT
Three LA Galaxy players join two members of the Columbus Crew in our Best XI.
Apr 15, 2014, 6:08 PM EDT
Gunners go back into the top four, but can they hold off Everton?
Apr 15, 2014, 5:47 PM EDT
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Apr 15, 2014, 5:16 PM EDT
Columbus’s Costa Rican international is the latest player to donate to MLS Works.
Apr 15, 2014, 4:42 PM EDT
The Gunners overcame a Matt Jarvis opener to take their second win of the season from the Irons.
Apr 15, 2014, 4:15 PM EDT
Klopp to take over at White Hart Lane?
Apr 15, 2014, 3:47 PM EDT
Last week’s hat trick couldn’t snare our honor, but two goals in Dallas made the Sounder star this week’s best player.
Apr 15, 2014, 3:17 PM EDT
Can the Clarets join the Foxes in the big time?
Apr 15, 2014, 2:35 PM EDT
A story from The Daily Beast deals with many obstacles faced by the girls, including some prevailing belief that they shouldn’t even watch sport, let alone play soccer.
Apr 15, 2014, 2:03 PM EDT
The Gunners and Hammers are putting some London derby bragging rights on the line this evening at the Emirates Stadium live on NBCSN and online NBC Sports Live Extra
Apr 15, 2014, 1:21 PM EDT
West Ham last took a point from Arsenal in an October 2009 draw, and hasn’t beaten the Gunners since an April 7, 2007 win at the Emirates.
Apr 15, 2014, 12:46 PM EDT
MLSSoccer.com’s “MLS Insider” series brings a strong video on the anniversary of Matt Reis’ heroics at the Boston Marathon bombing.
Apr 15, 2014, 11:57 AM EDT
His speech was equal parts soccer fan, Merseyside resident and fixture in the game.
Apr 15, 2014, 11:27 AM EDT
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Apr 15, 2014, 10:53 AM EDT
Former Villa player Gordon Cowans and current back-up keeper Shay Given have been “temporarily promoted.”
Apr 15, 2014, 9:56 AM EDT
Images from around Twitter, covering the 25th anniversary memorial to those who died in the Hillsborough disaster in 1989.
Apr 15, 2014, 9:40 AM EDT
Atletico won last year’s edition, with Barca topping the tourney in 2012 and Real claiming the crown in 2011. Who do you have winning the Copa del Rey?
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