Why Manchester City's Yaya Toure is Beyond Comparison

Yaya Toure exploded into the penalty area, knocking a Crystal Palace player to the turf for daring to block his way. And then, for the briefest moment, he paused. With his eyes fixed in another direction entirely, he shot into the top corner, with his weaker left foot, and with just enough bend to make sure of the result.

In that chain of events on Sunday at Selhurst Park, was the twinned brutality and brilliance of Toure writ large.

Now 30, Toure is in the midst of a remarkable season. All the usual traits have been to the fore - the tone-setting midfield play, immaculate distribution and gung-ho leadership. But what's been added has been goals, and a glut of them. With two games left, Toure is at 19 for the season and behind only Luis Suarez (30) and Daniel Sturridge (20) in the Premier League scoring charts.

His haul of 19 looks even more impressive when you consider Toure averages just 1.8 shots per game, as per whoscored stats. Suarez, Sturridge, Wayne Rooney and Sergio Aguero have all taken over 3 shots a game to claim their place in the top five scorers this season. 

Toure has bolstered his total from the penalty spot, but he's also shown us his free-kick pedigree and penchant for scoring big goals at important times for City. With six goals in his last six league starts, Toure is threatening to drive City to a second Premier League title. When his team has needed him most - domestically at least - Toure has stood up and delivered.

As it was on Sunday, when Toure returned from injury to give an emphatic demonstration of his powers. First came an assist for Edin Dzeko's opener, and then his explosive finish to ease City's nerves and make for a relatively comfortable rest of the afternoon.

"To see his name on the team sheet was such a disappointment for me," said Palace manager Tony Pulis after the game. "He's such a wonderful player."

All other managers in the Premier League must surely feel the same. And City's man in command, Manuel Pellegrini, will be hoping beyond hope Toure can get through their two remaining matches - at Everton and home to Aston Villa on the last day of the season - to give his team the best chance of clinching the title. Such is his influence, you have to believe that if the real Yaya Toure turns up in both matches, the ribbons on the trophy will be sky blue this year.

There have been times that hasn't happened. Chelsea exposed Toure at the Etihad in February, for example, with the Ivorian out-manned by Nemanja Matic. And Champions League games against strong opponents have passed him by also. But you get the feeling Toure is focused mentally for the challenge right now. You get the feeling he's as hungry as ever and ready to reinforce his message.

It's not an exaggeration to say it that on his day, there's no better box-to-box midfielder in the world. And pretty much every club on the planet would give up half their squad to sign him. To think Toure could have been an Arsenal player for the last 11 seasons.

There have been plenty of Sliding Doors moments in Arsenal's recent past, but missing out on Toure in 2003 must be among the hardest to bear. Arsene Wenger has called it his biggest transfer regret, and to look at his team's shortcomings this season is to see all too clearly why.

Back then the 20-year-old Toure fancied himself as the next Patrick Vieira. It's a comparison that has been unkind to too many powerfully-built, athletic midfielders to mention over the last 15 years (especially those of African origin), but Toure has lived up to the billing. Some will even argue Toure is an upgrade on Vieira. I don't agree, but the fact it's not an entirely ridiculous stance is a compliment of the very highest order to Toure.

How Arsenal could have used a player of Toure's unique talents in the years since Vieira departed in 2005. And how close it came to happening.

If not for the complications of international immigration, Toure would have joined Arsenal and not Metalurh Donetsk in 2003, and very likely played alongside Vieira for a couple of years before the Frenchman made his exit. What you have there are the ingredients for the smoothest of successions. Wenger might have seen him as a striker, but Toure would soon have changed his mind.

Over a decade on, we don't have to imagine the impact Toure might have had in an Arsenal shirt, because we've seen him deliver it in the sky blue of Manchester City. And he's finally united with Vieira, of course, who's on the coaching staff there.

But that's enough of us mentioning their names together. Toure's career stands alone now - offset from the Vieira comparison and in a different category altogether. Vieira certainly never scored 19 goals in a season, while Toure will probably never quite match the Frenchman's combative streak. Most importantly, the two men played very different games, in very different eras.

The true sign of a player 'owning' a role these days is when his name is thrown around as a genre. Just as Manchester United fans are desperate to find "the next Paul Scholes", Arsenal will continue their search for "the heir to Vieira" and Chelsea will soon be looking for a goalscoring midfielder "in the Frank Lampard mould". 

You can absolutely guarantee that this summer Europe’s top clubs will be searching for "the next Yaya Toure". And so it begins again.