Ilkay Gundogan masterclass in new role could solve two Man City problems – Joe Bray
If his final day heroics hadn’t convinced Manchester City that Ilkay Gundogan deserved a new contract, his post-season form should help.
Gundogan’s future has been a subject of discussion for months, as he enters the final year of his contract. The German has expressed a desire to stay, but also a requirement for more regular playing time, with City consistent that talks would take place this summer.
After starting and finishing the brilliant final day comeback versus Aston Villa to hand City the Premier League title, Gundogan has since impressed in two international fixtures in the Nations League. And it was his starring role against England this week that hinted Gundogan could help City solve two problems in one.
As much of the post-match attention concentrated on the midfield futures of both England and Germany after standout performances from Jude Bellingham and Jamal Musiala, the steadying presence of Gundogan has largely been taken for granted.
In a deeper role than he is used to at City, and in a double pivot alongside Joshua Kimmich, Gundogan was often the last man back as Germany had possession, keeping the ball moving and starting the attacks from deep. That allowed the likes of Musiala, Kai Havertz and Thomas Muller to attack with confidence, knowing there was protection behind.
In fact, while Gundogan enjoyed fewer touches than any other German midfielder or defender, he boasted the highest passing accuracy of any other player on the pitch — barring Kalvin Phillip’s 100 per cent rating from one completed pass before going off injured. His heat map showed most of his involvement in the deep left midfield position, with a few forays forward.
He may not have had as many touches as any his colleagues, but his positioning and use of the ball more than made up for it, and his standing ovation when substituted was deserving of a fine performance. Gundogan wants to be involved in the World Cup later this year; on this showing, he will be one of the first names on the teamsheet at the base of midfield.
It’s a role he’s played before for City, and one he may have to play more next season after the departure of Fernandinho. Rodri will need cover, although there could well be another defensive midfield signing arrive before next season begins.
However, it could be in Gundogan’s best interests to position himself as Guardiola’s second holding midfielder, especially with one less place expected in midfield due to the arrival of Erling Haaland and Julian Alvarez. The return to using a natural striker will mean less use of a false nine — often occupied by Gundogan, Bernardo or Kevin De Bruyne in the past. The trio will go back to fighting over the two midfield spots.
If Gundogan wants more guarantees of playing time, and City want to make sure their next defensive midfield signing is the right one, then they can solve both problems by moving their number eight back at times next season to give more time to find Fernandinho’s perfect replacement, potentially in 2023.
This solution could help persuade Gundogan to sign a new deal, and also ensure continuity in possibly the most important position in Guardiola’s system.