Who would have thought that we would see the current version of İlkay after that fateful knee injury in 2016. The German midfielder´s career seemed meant to fade away just like a broken toy. However, he has become a key part for Guardiola and now the ‘Citizen’ coach has discovered thanks to his confidence certain aptitudes and resources that make Gündoğan a very complete player.
Agüero´s constant absence forced Guardiola to reinvent the striker position at Manchester City. However, and since Pep Guardiola is not the point of this article, let´s just skip until the month of January. Gabriel Jesús returned out of shape after passing Covid-19 and Ferrán Torres was not performing as well as expected; that is the exact moment when the option of a ‘fake 9’ came up. That spot is mostly occupied by Phil Foden or Bernardo Silva in a 1-4-3-3 system. At least that is the way the ‘Sky Blues’ start off the games, because then it gets different. It is İlkay who access the offensive area, the direct beneficiary by the system and the capabilities that Guardiola requires from him.
“I said several times that Gündoğan could easily play as a ‘fake 9’ and people laughed at me. Now that is working out, I thought that was obvious”
Pep Guardiola at the press conference after beating Tottenham 3-0 at the Etihad Stadium
What has this system allowed Gündoğan to do? Attack the space in order to project himself offensively and develop a great positioning inside the opponent´s box. Guardiola gave him absolute movement freedom and the German takes it through insight, since one of his best abilities is to read the games. Gündoğan is a very intelligent player both with and without the ball. It is common to see him organizing his teammates on the field. Furthermore, he is very technical and with an excellent touch that allows him to create danger constantly.
Likewise, and even more importantly, İlkay Gündoğan has proved to be able to score regularly, mostly thanks to an exquisite shot. He is the top scorer at Manchester City with 12 goals in the Premier League and two in the Champions League, he has registered 10 goals in the first quarter of the year (he still has three more games to play during March).
Some people wanted to trip him up and just retire him, but he overcame every single obstacle thanks to his perseverance and tough spirit. Now Gündoğan is one of the sensations in the Premier League at the age of 30 and, if bad luck does not cross his way, we would enjoy his new role regularly.
“I always kept believing in myself”
Translated by Guillermo Bermejo.