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The Ivorian was a major driving force in City's 2-1 victory over Chelsea in the FA Cup semi-final at Wembley; harrying the Blues frequently. Harsh Shah underlines his influence.

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By Harsh Shah

Yaya Toure maintained his reputation as one of the best box-to-box midfielders in the trade with a masterful performance in the middle of the park against Chelsea in the FA Cup semi-final. The powerfully built No. 42 ensured that the likes of John Obi Mikel and Ramires had a torrid time on the Wembley turf as he drove on the likes of Samir Nasri and Sergio Aguero in what was a famous victory for the Citizens. The game ended with City edging the Blues out 2-1, meaning they will be the ones who face Wigan Athletic in what looks like a one-sided showpiece final next month.

And one-sided was what the first-half between the two rich powerhouses of English football was. The Dubai consortium owned Manchester City were all over the Russian oligarch-led Chelsea for the first 25 minutes of the game with Toure dictating the play in the centre. The sprawling Wembley surface was apt for Toure & Co to strut their stuff with Petr Cech having to make some excellent reflex saves early to keep City out.

Toure's industry made sure that his side did not miss the proverbial David Silva. The Ivorian's no-nonsense approach coupled with some intricate link-up play with the more advanced quartet of Sergio Aguero, Carlos Tevez, Samir Nasri and James Milner was enough to unsettle a Chelsea side with the shaky David Luiz and Branislav Ivanovic in central defence. The two defensive midfielders' (Toure and Gareth Barry) roles were clear: attack with gusto and directness and negate the danger of the Eden Hazard, Juan Mata and Oscar down the middle.


Toure's swashbuckling run down the right led to Nasri's opening goal

Toure & Co in midfield followed these instructions for over an hour to devastating effect. Left with no other option, Chelsea tried countering through the flanks, but the wing-backs too in Gael Clichy and Pablo Zabaleta were pushing forward, pressurising and retaining the ball better than the relatively inexperienced opposite pair of Cesar Azpilicueta and Ryan Bertrand. Chelsea's lone man Demba Ba upfront was a mere nagging presence who did little to trouble as his team's only real chance of the period came from a set piece which led to Hazard's volley headed off the line by Kompany.

With Mancini's troops' dominance proving too much, Chelsea fell behind on 35 minutes with the instrumental Yaya Toure boasting of a huge hand in the goal. The former Barcelona playmaker commandingly surged down the right hand side and pranced his way to the edge of the box before finding Aguero who found Nasri. The Frenchman then fortuitously converted for the Sky Blues. City's pressing had paid off and the combatant Toure was in the heart of the move.

In more ways than not, Toure too is indispensable to City's cause just like the injured David Silva. Many feared City would miss the dimunitive Spaniard, but the likes of Toure and Barry made sure the former Valencia man's absence was not too much to contend with. City's formation cancelled out Chelsea's by a far margin up until the 65th minute, with Toure proving too strong for Ramires and technically more superior to Mikel. He along with his teammates tracked back and retained possession to a greater effect than their counterparts.


Toure's versatility came to the fore as the game progressed

The towering Ivorian led counter-attacks as Chelsea chased the game, but like on many occasions lacked the killer pass in the final third. The worrying moments for his side came when Benitez shuffled Chelsea's formation with the introduction of Fernando Torres. The Spanish tactician withdrew the mediocre Obi Mikel and in place of Torres who had an immediate effect on the game. He pulled a defender along with him in his first run after coming on and created space for Ba to unleash yet another acrobatic strike, pulling one back for the Londoners who had fallen further back owing to Aguero's angled looping headed goal on 47 minutes.

Roberto Mancini too followed suit and brought on the defensive-minded Javi Garcia for Carlos Tevez on 70 minutes, five minutes after Ba's strike. This meant that Toure shifted behind Aguero in the hole. The ploy was to cut out Chelsea's supply line from the back and lead counter-attacks as and when the chance arose. The last 20 minutes saw Chelsea go for the jugular in a bid to equalize and push the game into extra-time. And as expected, Toure did make his bulldozing charges forward on a few occasions in the closing stages which saw some stellar goalkeeping from the deputy Costel Pantilimon and some last-ditch defending helping City hang on for the win. Lastly on 90+1', Toure set up another chance to finish the tie off, but Aguero could not oblige.

All in all, keeping the elements of controversial decisions and contemptuous play by a few players aside, Toure was the unsung hero for Manchester City. Replace him with Javi Garcia or a lone defensive midfielder in Gareth Barry and it would have been a relatively easy day in the office for Chelsea's creative attacking midfielders. One of Yaya's best performances of the season sealing a final date with Wigan Athletic in the FA Cup.

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