Touch, pass. Touch, pass. Touch, pass. Pep Guardiola’s football philosophy is well documented, but few players personify his ideals as much as Manchester City and Germany midfielder, Ilkay Gündoğan. A Bundesliga winner and a Champions League final goal-scorer, Gündoğan’s qualities in the centre of the park have seen him blossom into one of Europe’s most complete midfielders.
Ilkay Gündoğan Provides Manchester City With Balance and Purpose
Guardiola’s First Project
Guardiola’s first signing as Manchester City boss back in the summer of 2016, Gündoğan may have arrived nursing a patellar dislocation, but, represented an integral piece in the jigsaw being built in East Manchester.
In a mixed first season, the highs were high – a Gündoğan brace earned Manchester City a landmark 3-1 Champions League victory against Barcelona – and the lows were rock-bottom – a cruciate ligament injury ended the German’s campaign in mid-December.
But when Gündoğan finally returned from another lengthy injury at the start of the 2017/18 season, the ex-Dortmund star flourished- making 48 appearances (all competitions) in a never seen before 100-point season for City, was made even sweeter for Ilkay Gündoğan as his 167 passes against Chelsea in March 2017 broke the record for the most completed in a Premier League game.
Another league title, a domestic treble and a further 50 more appearances followed the season after and by now Gündoğan was beginning to display the potential shown during his Dortmund days. Possessing the ability to play a range of roles, be that the deepest man as a midfield anchor, or playing off a striker in a more advanced position, Gündoğan represented the ideal Pep Guardiola midfielder. Despite showing class on the field, the squad depth in the City ranks made starts hard to come by.
Gündoğan Finding His Place Once More for Manchester City
2019/20 signalled a transition for the Manchester City side that had dominated domestic football in the seasons prior: the arrival of Rodri, a farewell campaign for David Silva and the emergence of Kevin De Bruyne as one of the most devastating central players in world football, cast doubt on Gündoğan’s place in the City side, with rumours he may be shipped on. He stayed, of course, and approaching the mid-way point in the 2020/21 season Gündoğan is playing some of his best football since joining the Manchester club.
Critics have pointed to his shortage in goals and assist contributions during his time at City – just 25 in 119 Premier League matches – but his selfless nature on a football pitch provides an environment for others to thrive upon.
A constant on most Manchester City team-sheets, Gündoğan’s high work-rate and capacity to retain the ball, with the help of midfield teammate Rodri, has helped build a solid defensive structure for the Guardiola’s side – City boast the Premier League’s best defensive record. But it is his consistent ability to dictate the tempo of matches in a metronome-like way, which provides a composed balance to a side notorious for its attacking prowess.
The spaces in which the German operates don’t appear on the pitch for most ‘average’ footballers – comfortable picking the ball up in any area, facing any direction, Gündoğan is never rushed, often assured and always looking to make a line-breaking pass. Touch, pass. Touch, pass. Touch, pass.
The Perfect Midfielder
Gündoğan’s contributions are never spectacular, often going about his business in a manner which doesn’t seek the headlines. Instead, his passes are purposeful and his shots often deadly. Having bagged six goals already this campaign, the dynamic German has already equalled his best-ever haul in a City shirt.
His value to Guardiola is evident for all to see: when it became clear Thiago Alcântara was up for sale at the end of the 19/20 season, reports linking the eventual Liverpool signing with City were quickly shut-down, such was the importance placed upon Manchester City and their number eight in Gündoğan by Pep Guardiola and his coaching staff.
Few players have received the same level of admiration from Guardiola as the 30-year-old midfielder has, with Gündoğan being described as ‘one of the best signings in this club’s history’ following a cultured Champions League performance against Dinamo Zagreb. Compare his name to the greats that have pulled on the sky blue shirt of Manchester City in the past decade, and the magnitude of Guardiola’s comments will sink in.
When a David Silva shaped hole was left behind after the Spaniard’s departure, questions were posed about the capabilities of the Manchester City midfield. The control, assurance and incisiveness provided by Ilkay Gündoğan has seen his reputation rise consistently, with his measured performances on the pitch seeing the German evolve into one of the Premier League’s most coveted midfielders.
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