Ilkay Gundogan has been in and out of the starting XI this season, but his performance in the FA Cup quarter-final was proof that he still can be a vital player for Manchester City in the intense title run-in.
Pep Guardiola’s side remain on course for a historic treble after a 4-1 win against Southampton at St Mary’s on Sunday. Courtesy of goals from Raheem Sterling, Kevin De Bruyne, Phil Foden and Riyad Mahrez, the Blues booked themselves a spot in the FA Cup semi-final at Wembley in a month’s time, against none other than Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool.
Guardiola fielded a heavily rotated forward line against Saints, with Gabriel Jesus, Sterling and Jack Grealish supported by Kevin De Bruyne and Ilkay Gundogan. It was possibly the last chance the Catalan had to assess his full squad before a hectic end to the season, with City still fighting on three fronts.
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There was no surprise the manager’s reliable goal scorers came on to secure the victory for City, and it looks like it will be Mahrez, Foden and one other in attack for the upcoming crunch games. However, the performance of Gundogan in central midfield cannot be ignored by Guardiola – and he’s thrown his hat in the ring to start more regularly after the international break.
The German did only get one goal involvement in the game – plucking Joao Cancelo’s delicious outside-of-the-boot pass out of the air and laying on Mahrez for City’s fourth – but his all-round display makes for encouraging reading. Gundogan made four key passes across the 90 minutes – the most by any player on the field – and boasted a 89% passing accuracy, created one big chance, and would have had a goal of his own if he wasn’t denied by the post .
He was technically sound all game and recognized when the tempo required him to slow the play down, or speed it up. But that’s nothing new, it’s something Gundogan has been doing since he arrived at the club in 2016 – there was a reason why he became Guardiola’s first signing.
Perhaps the 31-year-old is the perfect Guardiola footballer. Doesn’t take many risks, but can come up with sublime moments of individual quality. So, it begs the question of why he’s been omitted from the starting XI so often this season.
The obvious answer would likely be the excellent form of his teammates, namely Bernardo Silva and De Bruyne. There have been so many critical moments from the pair over the course of the season, but Gundogan is more than capable of producing that too.
Across some crunch Premier League games in early 2021, the midfielder scored vital goals against Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur to virtually hand City the title. He even ended the season as the club’s top goal scorer.
So, it would not come as a huge surprise if Gundogan retained his place in the side against Burnley after the break. Games are coming thick and fast, and some may be frantic, but the silky German can be that calming presence that City needs.
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George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.