Ilkay Gundogan continues to underline just what an integral piece of Pep Guardiola’s puzzle at Manchester City he is through his masterful performances.
Injecting a crucial touch of class and wizardry into City’s work in the final third, the ultra-intelligent, eagle-eyed midfielder has been such an asset for the treble-chasing giants.
His impact has come into especially sharp focus of late with his mesmerising recent displays, where his crucial goal involvements have been instrumental towards propelling his team to great heights domestically and in Europe.
Contributing immensely both with and without possession, the experienced German star has helped put many teams to the sword, with his outings vs. Leeds United, Everton and Real Madrid particularly drawing attention.
To start with his wicked movement, and this has provided him with an exceptional base to wreak havoc. Such a brilliant reader of the play, who is constantly scanning around him for vacant spaces and where teammates and opponents are situated, Gundogan’s ability to keep one step ahead of his foes has ensured he’s nigh on impossible to contain for a full match.
So alert to little pockets of space between the lines and in the half spaces, when passing lanes open up and quick to spot opponents getting dragged out of shape, he pounces incisively to give the ball holder an option to progress attacks.
Moreover, how he wisely knows when to form overloads centrally and out wide, executes slick rotations with his fellow attackers and midfielders and is so comfortable operating in all areas on the pitch adds to his menace.
Another vital aspect of his game is his instinctive runs into the box, where he astutely times and directs his bursts to pierce backlines, plus to gain separation, to get into quality scoring positions. Assessing situations so rapidly, sharp at spotting openings and recognising if defenders are preoccupied, the little genius is so lethal in these instances.
The examples below serve as a glowing testament to his aptitude in this regard, where he subtly and expertly exploits space and the blindside of his adversaries to arrive perfectly to cause major issues for backlines.
The 32-year-old importantly supplements the aforementioned with his polished finishing, as his keen eye for goal, handy repertoire of finishes and two-footedness holds him good stead to punish rearguards. Great at improvising with his efforts and effectively parlaying power and finesse, there’s been much to admire about how he rewards himself for all his clever probing in the area (examples above apply here too).
The former Borussia Dortmund maestro’s ability to create chances and progress the ball adds to his impact, for his vision and range of passing has shone brightly. Able to engage in smart combination play with his fellow attackers, pinpoint colleagues with measured crosses and cutbacks, feed runners with penetrative through balls and switch the angle of attacks, his distribution compounds issues for his opponents.
Upon watching his devastating influence, Guardiola’s comments that he “understands the game perfectly” certainly ring true, for there’s not many better in terms of spatial awareness.
A real difference maker in the final third, who not only flexes his muscles with his decisive space invading and ball use, but also with his capacity to manipulate backlines, Gundogan’s been a major force to be reckoned with.
By the numbers from Wyscout compared to players in similar positions (including central midfielders, wing-backs and defensive midfielders) in the Premier League this season, the below stats accentuate his worth, for he ranks very well indeed.
3rd for goals – 8
6th for shots – 48
Equal 10th for assists – 4
10th for through balls – 1.80 p90
12th for touches inside the box – 2.97 p90
13th for deep completions – 1.50 p90
20th for passes – 51.75 p90
28th for shot assists – 0.95 p90
Equal 31st for progressive runs – 1.50 p90
Furthermore, seeing as City are regularly up against deep sitting defences, the imagination and spark he provides helps them hugely to conjure openings in these challenging conditions.
Emphatically underlining his importance and what an essential element his unique skill set is to Guardiola’s plans, City will now be doing all they can to ensure the man whose contract expires soon remains in Manchester for next term at least.
Even though he’s 32 and in the twilight of his career, Gundogan’s making age look like just a number, as he’s already made 48 appearances this campaign while arguably enjoying his finest season in Sky Blue.
“He shows again and again his quality and his importance,” Guardiola insisted. “His commitment to all of us at the club, it is not just scoring goals, he has his momentum because against Leeds he was the player and again today.
“When he talks, everyone listens. This is the power of a leader. He shows leadership every training session. Arriving on time, living the job 24 hours a day. He is a guy who handles the pressure really, really well.”
Coming into his own when his team needs him most and showing no signs of slowing down, City need to act fast and secure his services before it’s too late, for there’s no denying what a weapon he is for Pep’s exceptional outfit, who are on the verge of making history.