- Associated Press - Monday, May 15, 2017

MANCHESTER, England (AP) - Pablo Zabaleta’s final home match as a Manchester City player is set to be an emotional occasion, with video montages, tributes, and a post-match presentation commemorating one of the most important figures in the club’s recent history.

Yaya Toure might not be afforded such a send-off.

Unlike Zabaleta, whose departure after nine years was announced on Saturday, Toure - a driving force in City’s midfield since 2010 - doesn’t yet know if this is his last season at City.

He is one of six players whose contracts are due to expire and who are waiting to discover if they get a new one.

Toure, along with Jesus Navas, Gael Clichy, Bacary Sagna, Willy Caballero, and Tosin Adarabioyo, may find out only during the offseason.

So, for the moment, it’s only Zabaleta who can really bid City farewell.

Signed a day before Sheikh Mansour’s takeover in 2008, the right back has been at City throughout the most decorated period in its history. Of the current City players, only Joe Hart and captain Vincent Kompany have been there longer.

Zabaleta has become a firm fans’ favorite at Etihad Stadium because of his work rate and touch tackling.

“He has helped the club to where it is right now,” City manager Pep Guardiola said on Monday, describing Zabaleta as “one of the most important players in the history of Manchester City.”

Kompany and Zabaleta have formed the strong right side of City’s defense for nearly a decade, and the captain was effusive in his praise.

“His presence in big games - even when you’re losing - there’s always a few players you know are going to put in a good performance, even when you don’t always get on the right end of it,” Kompany said.

“If you need to go to war in the big games, you know you’ve got Zaba with you.”

Since Zabaleta’s arrival from Espanyol, City has come out of the shadow of cross-town rival Manchester United, to the extent that it regularly finishes ahead of United in the English Premier League.

“When I first came to Manchester, I felt like when I was in Barcelona at Espanyol; we were not the main club in the city,” Zabaleta said. “We can’t say the same thing now. I remember at that time (then-United manager Alex) Ferguson and the ‘noisy neighbors,’ and this is something that I have been since that time! For me, we couldn’t let people say something like that about us.”

Zabaleta has made 332 appearances for City, scoring 12 goals, but hasn’t been a regular under Guardiola in the Spanish coach’s first year in charge.


Steve Douglas is at www.twitter.com/sdouglas80

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