In a managerial appointment that thrilled many, Manchester City signed Pep Guardiola in the summer to be at the helm for the 2016-‘17 season and thereafter to build upon the good work the club has been up to in recent years.
Having characters such as Jurgen Klopp, Arsene Wenger in the league already and the arrival of Antonio Conte and Jose Mourinho, accompanied by Pep Guardiola made for a mouth-watering prospect come August 2016.
But even before a ball was kicked, the foundation for the upcoming battle was being laid as all the managers went out to pick their squad who will then turn into their warriors for the season and beyond and help them with the coveted triumph.
With money at their disposal, there were no surprises when Manchester City splashed the most cash in the market, overpowering their arch rivals Manchester United who were involved in the record transfer of Paul Pogba from Juventus.
Pep’s problems with Yaya Toure
When Guardiola took over the reins from Manuel Pellegrini after a disappointing season on so many fronts, it was evident that the man who believed in discipline more than anything else would bring about a set of changes to the squad and reinforce certain areas with central midfield being the top priority. Clichéd as it may sound, central midfield helps a manager dictate play and wins them games.
As Pep had never really believed in Yaya Toure who had difficulties with his team, it was only a matter of time before the elite manager would get his favoured player in the middle of the park.
It came as no surprise then when Pep went out to recruit the disciplined, yet talented Ilkay Gundogan. Though plagued by injuries, Gundogan was always a special, quality player commanding the ship from the middle. Possessing craft, graft and the innate ability to be at the right place at the right time, be it in his own half or the opposition’s, Gundogan’s signature for £21 million was a no-brainer which fell under the radar owing to his injury.
From arriving with an injured leg to now being the engine of the team, Gundogan has made an instant impact for City in both the Premier League and the Champions League. While the midfielder has scored three goals and created 11 chances in seven Premier League appearances this season to go with an average pass accuracy of 92%, he has been on target twice in four appearances in the Champions League.
Shaking off his injury to shine
Both these goals came against Barcelona in a decisive 3-1 victory for Manchester City, a fortnight after they had been hammered 4-0 at the Camp Nou. Not just that, Gundogan managed to complete 100% of his 28 passes attempted in the Barcelona half in United’s victory at the Etihad Stadium.
Even on Saturday during City's 1-1 draw with Middlesbrough, Gundogan did not score but he pulled the strings. In the 74 minutes he appeared on the pitch, Pep Guardiola's team looked dominant. Gundogan was found in the box for every move and helped City dictate play in the middle of the park. But as it turned out, City lost out on two crucial points as Middlesbrough got the equaliser in injury time. Who knows, if Gundogan had been kept on for longer, City might have got another and killed the game, or at the least, may not have conceded at all.
Despite Guardiola not being a fan of Toure, the Ivory Coast was a player who gave City anywhere between 10-12 goals a season. Filling such shoes is never easy but Gundogan seems to be on his way having already netted six in the brief term.
Playing in the position most vital in a Pep Guardiola setup, the 26-year-old is slowly turning to be a key man for Pep Guardiola’s side who has come back strong on the back of a few disappointments and Gundogan seems to be a big reason for it.
A box to box midfielder, Gundogan not only helps break play, but assists the forward line with an extra body in the box, mostly at the right place at the right time. Not flamboyant in nature, the central midfielder is an effective player who goes about doing his job to near perfection and help the team maintain the shape, in return helping Pep setup his team better.
Those who watched the 3-1 victory over Barcelona and the 4-0 demolition of West Bromwich Albion a couple of days earlier would recognise that Gundogan is not just about his strikes but adds a lot more. He can pass short, he can pass long, move the ball around, play incisive passes and then end up in the box to finish the move.
He has made his goals look easy but the kind of work he has put in to finish them is another story in itself. For reference, let us look at his second goal against Barcelona. The German international won the ball back near the City box, started the move and was soon on the scoresheet. Having failed to score enough for Borussia Dortmund, Gundogan seems to be relishing a union with Pep Guardiola, a man he always wanted to work with, scoring five already in no time.
Going further to Pep’s post-match statement, it is only clear that both share a great bond and Pep realizes the importance and impact of Gundogan in his team.
“I said to him, ‘thank you’,” revealed the Spanish boss. “We need him. Without him we cannot achieve our target, it is impossible.”