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Step forward, young lion: Wanyama vs. Yaya

09:24 GMT+3 21/01/2017
Toure vs Wanyama
Is the Kenya star primed to replace Toure as Africa’s best Premier League midfielder?

At a glance, Yaya Toure stands alone as the last of the great African central midfielders in the Premier League .

Players such as Michael Essien, John Obi Mikel, Marc-Vivien Foe, Papa Bouba Diop, Youssouf Mulumbu and even Steven N’Zonzi, eligible for the Democratic Republic of Congo, have held forth in the EPL for the last decade and beyond, yet steadily, they have each dropped out of the top flight.

Mikel was the last of these names to depart when he signed for Tianjin TEDA during the ongoing transfer window, although the Nigerian’s time as a Prem star really ended when Antonio Conte was appointed as Chelsea manager in the summer.

There are, of course, various talented African midfielders in the top flight—Idrissa Gueye, Daniel Amartey and Didier Ibrahim N’Dong spring to mind—but none can come close to matching Toure for class or stature.

Some may argue that the Ivorian is on borrowed time at Manchester City , having already appeared—once or twice at least—to have been on his way out of the Etihad Stadium and bound for foreign lands.

Certainly, since Pep Guardiola’s arrival, it has looked as though Yaya has been bound for the exit door on several occasions, yet not only does he remain on the club’s books as we approach the final ten days of the transfer window, but he also appears to be flourishing.

He announced his comeback—unexpectedly—with a double in City’s 2-1 victory at Crystal Palace, and then has subsequently followed that up with excellent showings in the triumphs over Watford and Arsenal.

City may be struggling, but there were few players more impressive than Toure in the demolition of Hull City on Boxing Day and the 5-0 FA Cup rout of West Ham United earlier this month.

While EPL fans, and supporters of the African game, will watch on and enjoy Toure’s Indian summer, few will expect it to last for much longer. Indeed, now 33, there’s little chance he’ll be at City beyond the end of the season, let alone replicating this impact on any kind of consistent basis.

As the great man drifts off into the sunset, taking his two Premier League titles, FA Cup and two League Cups with him, it’s hard to see who will step up and replace him as the EPL’s outstanding African midfielder.

A case can certainly be made for Everton’s Gueye, but what of Tottenham Hotspur ’s Victor Wanyama , the man who will stand between Toure, City and all three points in the two clubs’ showdown at the City of Manchester Stadium on Saturday?

The Kenya midfielder’s rise in the British game has been a joy to watch, right from his auspicious start to life at Celtic, his goal against Barcelona, his adaptation to life south of the border and, latterly, his powerful displays in the heart of the Spurs midfield.

There had been some doubt initially, when he was first signed by Mauricio Pochettino, whether Wanyama would take a starting role for the Lillywhites, or whether he’d been brought in to provide cover for the likes of Mousa Dembele, Dele Alli and Eric Dier as the Londoners look to battle on multiple fronts.

21 league games into the season, the answer is clear.

Wanyama is the only player on the Tottenham team to have started all 21 matches—three players have started 20—and none can come close to the East African’s 1852 minutes.

Particularly eye-catching has been Wanyama’s partnership with Dembele in the centre of the pitch, with the two men demonstrating superb tenacity and defensive discipline in midfield, protecting Spurs’ defenders, while simultaneously helping Tottenham launch attacks with intelligent and accurate passing.

The Kenyan’s physical presence and forceful midfield play have been two consistent features of the Londoners’ campaign so far, helping Pochettino’s troops up to second and currently looking like the side most like to give Chelsea a run for their money.

They head into Saturday’s showdown with City three points ahead of the Sky Blues, and while margins remain fine, Guardiola’s side will be desperate to end their sticky recent run with a win to pull back level with Spurs.

A defeat, meanwhile, would leave the 2014 champions in a particularly perilous position.

Beyond the context of the title race or the top-four battle, the match will be a fantastic glimpse at just how Wanyama and Toure compare at this stage in their careers, as one continues to rise and the other finds himself enjoying perhaps his final fling with English football.

Perhaps there will be further evidence that Wanyama, high-flying with Spurs, is the man best placed to take the mantle of Africa’s finest EPL midfielder…some may argue he’s there already.