By Oliver Platt
Introducing Nigel de Jong's midfield steel in place of Samir Nasri's attacking craft might have seemed like an oddly defensive substitution for Roberto Mancini to make, given that Manchester City were desperately searching for the first goal of their crucial encounter with Newcastle United.
There was a third man involved in this change, however. De Jong's introduction allowed Yaya Toure to advance into a position just behind lone striker Edin Dzeko – a little bit of tinkering that worked to devastating effect.
Few have stifled the duo of Papiss Cisse and Demba Ba as successfully as Toure did in the first hour. Mancini, who deserves great credit for his deployment of the Ivorian throughout the 90 minutes at the Sports Direct Arena, deliberately restricted Toure's role as City looked to establish a defensive barrier before growing into their fluid attacking game.
Vincent Kompany was colossal in defence but he was undoubtedly helped by the way Toure squeezed the space that Ba and Cisse could exploit in front of the City captain and Joleon Lescott.
Toure is one of few players capable of matching Cisse and Ba for physicality but there is also an intelligent head on his broad shoulders.
He learned from the best midfield craftsmen during three seasons with Barcelona. Xavi and Andres Iniesta, of course, often played alongside Toure in midfield and there is no doubt that Pep Guardiola will have taught him a thing or two.
|TOURE DE FORCE
It is City, not Barca, who are reaping the rewards of that education as Toure enters the prime years of his career.
Lionel Messi would have been proud of his first, infinitely important goal on Tyneside; Toure engineered a neat one-two with Sergio Aguero before stroking a low shot into the bottom corner from 20 yards.
If his first goal showcased his footballing ability, the second was testament to his remarkable physical condition and stamina.
City counter-attacked through Aguero after clearing a corner and sure enough, by the time the ball had reached Gael Clichy on the left-hand side, Toure had arrived on the scene to finish the job by converting the Frenchman's pass.
It is not the first time he has been the difference when the stakes are high. It is also not the first time he has led City to silverware – because they will surely now lift the Premier League trophy next weekend – at the expense of their more seasoned Manchester rivals.
Toure took advantage of Michael Carrick's slip up to carry City past Manchester United and through to the FA Cup final last season, before repeating the trick against Stoke City to hand Mancini his first trophy during his tenure at the Etihad Stadium.
He has dominated the midfield in City's two victories over Sir Alex Ferguson's team this season. United have plenty of attacking prowess, while their defence has vastly improved as the season has gone on after the initial shock of losing Nemanja Vidic to injury.
What they lack, however, is a world-class midfield statesman like Toure. United might have grabbed a point from the showdown at Eastlands on Monday had they defended set-pieces more effectively but they never controlled the flow of the game.
Aguero and David Silva might be counted as the attacking stars of City's campaign but without the security of Toure behind them they would undoubtedly find things a lot more difficult.
Sky Sports asked Sir Alex before United's match against Swansea City whether Toure's goals had left City with one hand on the Premier League title. "Probably two," was his reply.
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