Yaya Touré left out of Manchester City squad in Champions League play-off

• Two young defenders travel to Romania instead of midfielder
• Pep Guardiola’s team play Steaua Bucharest in first leg

On the face of it there did not seem anything out of the ordinary as Joe Hart larked about on the pitch at the Arena Nationala. His Manchester City career appears to be unravelling but the only flicker of irritation came in a game of piggy‑in‑the‑middle when he could not get the ball and gave Mikel Arteta, one of Pep Guardiola’s coaches, an exasperated squeeze.

“Since I’ve been manager of Manchester City, from the time I’ve been together with Joe, it was perfect,” Guardiola noted. “His behaviour, his training sessions, on the pitch, off the pitch – he is a big professional.”

Unfortunately for Hart that tribute jarred somewhat with the notion that, if everything really was “perfect”, the England international would still be in the team and the first leg of City’s Champions League qualifier against Steaua Bucharest would not have his future so high on the agenda, not least because of the growing sense in Barcelona about a proposed deal for Claudio Bravo.

Instead it should not have taken long for City’s players to realise it is probably better not to read too much into Guardiola’s superlatives. On Saturday, after a 2-1 win against Sunderland when Samir Nasri could not even get on the bench, Guardiola said the player had looked “amazing” in training. Two days on Guardiola used the same description for Yaya Touré, yet has not even brought him to Romania, having also excluded him at the weekend.

There is history here – Guardiola was managing Barcelona when Touré left the club – and nobody should expect Touré’s City career to be reignited when Guardiola went on to explain it made better sense to have two of the club’s youngsters, the left-back Angelino and a centre-half, Tosin Adarabioyo, in his 21-man squad.

“He [Touré] is training amazing but I was not sure if he was going to play so I prefer it if he stays there, training good, in Manchester,” Guardiola said. “We travelled with two young guys and for the selection I prefer it to be the young guys than Yaya Touré. I prefer it if he stays there training and focuses on the next game. I have a lot of respect of him, for his career and quality, but against Sunderland we were looking for a more intensive game. That is why he didn’t play, the only reason why.”

Touré has had a distinguished career but, at 33, it looks doubtful, to say the least, that he is going to reinvent himself into the player Guardiola wants and, alongside Hart, it increasingly feels as if two of the mainstays of the club’s successes are on their way out.

Pep Guardiola
Pep Guardiola and Yaya Touré, pictured during the pre-season friendly against Bayern Munich in July. Photograph: Matt West/BPI/REX/Shutterstock

Not that it is straightforward in either case. Touré earns £240,000 a week and has no plans of leaving just yet, with a year to run on his contract. The January transfer window is more likely but it would depend on finding a buyer who could meet his financial requirements and that might not be easy.

As for Hart, the word in Spain is that City had a £17.4m agreement to sign Bravo, the 33-year-old Chile international, but that it is now in jeopardy because Marc‑André ter Stegen is injured.

Ter Stegen, another goalkeeper Guardiola has closely monitored, will be out for three weeks and Barcelona are reluctant to go into games without one of the two. That means a deal for Bravo could potentially be delayed until late in the transfer window.

Guardiola was subsequently asked whether the club would listen to offers for Hart but that was the point a Uefa press officer had been primed to intervene. “Let’s keep it to the Champions League,” came the request, earning a show of gratitude from Guardiola once the press conference had finished.

Guardiola described the encounter against Steaua, currently top of Romania’s Liga 1 as “one of the most important games of the season” and it is certainly true that over two legs it is a contest City dare not lose. They will begin as clear favourites but it was also apparent during the win against Sunderland that the players might need some time before they are au fait with Guardiola’s tactics, most notably the switching when the team are attacking from 4-1-4-1 to 3-2-4-1 with Fernandinho dropping back from midfield to defence and the full-backs converting into central midfielders.

“Everything is new,” Kevin De Bruyne said. “It’s a little adjusting but it is OK. He [Guardiola] has his tactics. I do not play really as a No10, more as a free eight. You see sometimes that someone is thinking: ‘Where should I run?’ But for a first match it was better than expected.”


Daniel Taylor in Bucharest

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