Mens Team

Ilkay Gundogan: City's understated midfield maestro

Ilkay Gundogan: City's understated midfield maestro
Ilkay Gundogan. City’s Mr Consistent. An unassuming player who keeps Pep Guardiola’s machine well oiled and moving freely.

He’s become an essential member of the side, playing 14 times already this season. He often sits at the base of midfield, offering protection to the back four and starting moves from deep with his incisive, metronomic passing.

But the 30-year-old isn’t just an additional layer of defence; he’s a multi-faceted player, one who can also play higher up the field and influence City’s attacking game. Indeed, it’s that kind of versatility that convinced Guardiola to make him his first City signing back in 2016.

He’s bagged four goals already this season and sits sixth on our list of passes completed, but Gundogan, in his typically understated way, says statistics can be misleading. Measuring performances in terms of numbers, in his eyes, lacks nuance and subtlety.

While some are saying he is in the best form he’s been in since joining City, he feels the final few months of the 2018-19 season remain his finest.

“Maybe I would disagree [this is my best run of form] because the last few months where we won the league one point ahead of Liverpool, I felt very confident about my personal game,” he says.

“That’s a period that still feels as really good, not just for myself, but for the team. Maybe with the numbers people think I am better now, but I am honest, numbers are never really important for me in football.

“When I leave the pitch after the final whistle, if I feel I have played as good as I could, when I am happy and proud of what I have done on the pitch, that’s the point I feel comfortable – not if I score one, two goals or whatever.

“You need players who score, but that’s not something I identify with. Obviously, when I am in the region to score goals, I try.”

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Gundogan is a player who doesn’t seek headlines or special praise. He’s a consummate professional who leads by example.

When City are in possession, his silky passing helps knit together our play. When we lose the ball, his work-rate and positional sense are key factors in regaining it.

And Guardiola is under no illusions about his quality. The manager values his versatility and technical excellence, and in October, after a fine performance against Dinamo Zagreb in the Champions League, Guardiola went heavy on superlatives. “You cannot believe how good he is," the boss said. “He is exceptional. He is one of the best signings in this Club’s history.”

High praise, indeed, but those kinds of words don’t sit comfortably with Gundogan, who prefers to do the simple things effectively and provide a platform on which others can flourish.

“Someone said to me once I perhaps don’t shine but I allow others to shine, and that’s how I see myself,” he said.

“You cannot just build a team of eleven players playing the same type of football and same type of characters and players.

“In the end, there has to be one harmony – one great picture that fits. That’s always the challenge.

“The most successful teams in history were so successful because they had diff players playing in harmony.”

WATCH: Watch City's 20 best goals of 2020

City face Chelsea on Sunday in a crucial Premier League encounter.

We currently sit eighth, but with two games in hand on leaders Liverpool – and with this season’s table more compact than ever – we remain right in the mix for a run at the title. Chelsea are fifth, ahead of us only on goal difference.

A vital game, then, and one that perhaps carries additional significance for Gundogan, given Chelsea’s contingent of German players, with summer signings Kai Havertz and Timo Werner, added to Gundogan’s close friend Antonio Rudiger.

Gundogan is confident it will be a good game given the quality on show and believes there is more to come from his fellow Germans in the Chelsea squad.

“It will be an exciting, interesting game on Sunday," he says.

"Two teams with two great players and ambitious managers playing against each other. The fact we lost our last game at Stamford Bridge should motivate us more. We have quality to do it and that’s what we want to achieve.

"It’s not easy for them. I am quite close with Antonio Rudiger and he is not centre-back No. 1- but he when he gets gametime he tries to do as good as possible and help the team.

"With Havertz and Werner, coming from a different league and different country – one that is competitive and challenging – it is not always easy, especially when you are young like they are.

"And with the Coronavirus situation it makes it harder. It takes time to adapt. It’s a different league, different players and a different kind of football.

"But I am sure they will adapt, improve step by step. I am confident they will be happy over here in England over the next few years.”

SHOP | ILKAY GUNDOGAN RANGE

City go into the game with the best defensive record in the Premier League this season having conceded just 12 times in our 14 matches. We also conceded just once in the Champions League group stage, which saw us win Group C with a game to spare, taking 16 points from a possible 18. 

It’s an impressive record, with summer signing Ruben Dias adding extra solidity to our backline, which has also been bolstered by the improved form of John Stones and Joao Cancelo.

Indeed, Stones and Cancelo were shortlisted for the Etihad player of the month award alongside Gundogan, and the midfielder says both deserve the praise they are receiving.

“Both are doing an incredible season,” he says. “Joao is always ready.

"Even though he is a right-back, he can make something special. Defensively he has improved a lot in the last few months.

"And for John it has been difficult to get back in the team after struggling with injuries but it’s nice to see these guys going so well, because they are not just great footballers but great personalities.

"I appreciate these two guys in our squad and hopefully they can help us in the coming weeks.”

Typical of Gundogan to shift the spotlight on to his teammates. But it's perhaps exactly that attitude that has made him one of the most quietly effective players in the Premier League. 

We will have full coverage of Sunday’s game against Chelsea right here on ManCity.com

Our Matchday Centre will get under way at 2.30pm, with text updates throughout the evening meaning you won't miss a beat. 

Our We're Not Really Here live matchday show starts at 3.30pm, when Nedum Onuoha and Joleon Lescott will be our guests. 

And CITY+ subscribers can enjoy a full 90-minute replay from midnight. 

Enjoy your first month of CITY+ free of charge. After that, CITY+ costs £1.99 a month.

Find out more and sign up, here.


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