Manchester City manager Manuel Pellegrini has said he believes Yaya Toure is getting back to his best after a difficult summer, saying criticism of him has been excessive and unfair.
Midfielder Toure lost his brother Ibrahim in June, while his City future was the subject of speculation after complaints from his agent Dmitry Seluk that City had failed to celebrate his birthday, leading to suggestions that he wanted to leave the Etihad Stadium.
He did not score a Premier League goal until October, when he broke the deadlock in the 2-0 win at Aston Villa, and was heavily condemned for his performance in the 1-0 Champions League defeat at Bayern Munich.
But Pellegrini feels Toure, who struck 24 times last season, is now performing at a higher level and came to the defence of the 31-year-old.
He told a news conference: "I don't agree exactly with the media that Yaya Toure has had a bad season. Maybe if you compare his performances with last year -- that was a brilliant performance.
"Maybe he just needs time to arrive again at that [level of] performance, but he continues being a very important player for our team. You saw two games ago against Aston Villa that he has the quality to make a difference. Every game he is playing, he is getting better.
"He had a difficult summer, but every game he is getting better and now he is arriving again to his normal performance."
Toure was only a substitute for Saturday's 4-1 win over Tottenham but is likely to return to the starting 11 for Tuesday's Champions League tie against CSKA Moscow, when City will be without the injured Frank Lampard.
The match will be played in an empty Khimki Arena after UEFA punished the Russian club for racist behaviour by their fans, and Pellegrini thinks that is a shame.
"It is a pity we can't play for fans, as this competition is for the fans," he added. "But we don't have any other option."