Yaya Toure marked his first Premier League game of the season by scoring both of Manchester City’s goals in a 2-1 win away to Crystal Palace on Saturday.
Toure’s goals, allied to a strutting display patrolling a City midfield of which he used to be the leader, saw the Ivory Coast midfielder make a compelling case to manager Pep Guardiola as the visitors maintained their title challenge at Selhurst Park.
Toure has been effectively frozen out since Guardiola’s pre-season arrival at Eastlands.
Apart from a Champions League outing against Steaua Bucharest in August — largely irrelevant after City’s 5-0 win in the away leg — Toure had not worn a City shirt since the final game of last season.
But few would have known it by his work against the Eagles. Bristling with intent and even pressing defenders to appease Guardiola’s concerns over his work-rate, Toure demonstrated his confidence has not been dulled by repeatedly sitting in the stands.
His first goal arrived six minutes before half-time.
Toure exchanged passes with Sergio Aguero inside the home area and, with the Palace defence standing off, he did the same with Nolito before rifling home a rising shot which clipped James Tomkins on its way into the net.
The goal came five minutes after Guardiola had called Toure and Kevin De Bruyne over to the touchline for an animated tactical discussion during a break in play.
Then, after Connor Wickham had drawn Palace level midway through the second half, Toure slipped his marker at an 83rd-minute corner and calmly side-footed his side to victory.
– Kompany blow –
That stoppage was caused by a worrying collision between City keeper Claudio Bravo and club captain Vincent Kompany, who was shadowing the run of Palace striker Christian Benteke.
Kompany’s head was rocked back by a combination of his keeper’s right knee and thigh. It appeared to be more a case of whiplash than concussion.
He continued for five minutes before dropping to his haunches and having to be led from the field, the latest in a depressing series of early departures from matches for the 30-year-old.
Kompany will be doubtful for City’s Champions League trip to Borussia Moenchengladbach as a result.
There was little else of note in an insipid first half. That the second period was more open and exciting owed much to the bravery of Palace manager Alan Pardew, who took off ineffective winger Andros Townsend and gave Benteke a strike partner in Wickham.
That change stretched the play and meant more chances were created at both ends of the pitch.
It also gave Jason Puncheon the licence to drift out to the wing, as he did 11 minutes after half-time, skipping past Bacary Sagna to the by-line before clipping over a cross which Benteke headed within Bravo’s reach.
The momentum of the game swung in the space of 30 seconds in the 66th minute. City almost made it 2-0 when a De Bruyne cross was guided goalwards by Aguero.
Palace keeper Wayne Hennessey parried the flick but needed the help of right-back Joel Ward who scampered back to clear the ball off the line and upfield.
The ball eventually found Wilfried Zaha whose jink inside ended with a slipped pass for Wickham to drive the ball past Bravo.
If that equaliser gave Palace hope of a first Premier League point in five matches, it also set the stage for Toure to round off his return from exile.
Unfortunately for Pardew and Palace, defeat meant their slide down the table continued.
As in recent games, they could consider themselves unfortunate to lose, but that is a habit of which they will want to rid themselves soon.