Ilkay Gundogan struck a second-half double as Manchester City powered to a comfortable 3-0 victory over Tottenham Hotspur at the Etihad Stadium and extend their lead at the top of the Premier League table to seven points.
After City took the lead from a Rodri penalty – won by Gundogan following a foul from Pierre-Emile Højbjerg – Tottenham fell victim to yet another slick double from the Premier League’s most in-form player as Ilkay Gundogan carried on his superb goal scoring run, taking his tally to 11 Premier League goals, also making him the second highest goal-scoring midfielder in the league behind Bruno Fernandes (13).
The first of his goal came from yet another smooth Manchester City move in the penalty box, the German received the ball from Raheem Sterling before stroking the ball past Hugo Lloris in the Tottenham goal.
His second was just as silky, when goalkeeper Ederson purposely hit a long ball forward right onto Gundogan’s run, he bamboozled Davinson Sanchez, leaving him in a comical plank position through some lovely nimble footwork before planting the ball past Hugo Lloris, scoring his ninth goal in 2021 so far.Embed from Getty Images
The German international’s evening was somewhat cut-short due to a groin injury coming off for Ferran Torres in the 66th minute meaning he’ll miss the midweek trip to Everton, however, it was yet another afternoon in which Gundogan stole the show, providing a telling reminder of his superb footballing qualities in recent months.
“Someone said to me once I perhaps don’t shine but I allow others to shine, and that’s how I see myself,” Ilkay Gundogan said in a recent interview.
For much of his Manchester City career, Gundogan has indeed been the one performing admirably in the background, providing players such as Kevin De Bruyne, Raheem Sterling and even David Silva with the onus and platform to grab the headlines and the plaudits. It was actually Mikel Arteta, the former Manchester City assistant, who told him that he’s the one who allowed others to shine, and its pretty much summed up his game since he stepped through the Etihad doors after his move from Borussia Dortmund in 2016.
We’ve always known that Gundogan possesses that special ability, even if he hasn’t been handed the same plaudits as some of his more forward-thinking teammates, but he’s still quietly gone about his business with consummate professionalism and a smoothness that somewhat means his intelligence on the pitch is rather much underappreciated.
However, Gundogan has always been so integral to Pep Guardiola’s philosophy. The ability to keep the ball, move it quickly, setting the tempo, organising his team-mates while destabilizing his opponents, as well as the panache to wait and execute the delicious passes to his forwards, its why he’s so cherished under the former Barcelona coach.Embed from Getty Images
It’s rarely the most obvious thing that is pointed out in football matches and it can certainly be difficult to appreciate Ilkay Gundogan from the outside looking in. In fact, in recent years, there’s been the argument that Gundogan doesn’t even feature in most City fans’ dream starting XI’s with David Silva and Kevin De Bruyne prominently featuring, even within the media too. Though, Pep Guardiola still always needs him to keep things ticking over.
“You cannot just a build a team of 11 players playing the same type of football and the same type of characters and players,” Gundogan added, almost defending his measured style and approach. “In the end, there has to be harmony – one great picture that fits.”
A lot of Gundogan’s game does indeed go unnoticed, but in recent weeks the German certainly does not need to have to spell out the levels and improvement at which he’s performed, when he’s plainly reminded everyone that he can shine as brightly as anyone in the City team, and its been a breath of fresh air for the City faithful after the injury to Kevin De Bruyne.
Fresh from his Premier League Player of the Month award for January, Ilkay Gundogan has remarkably taken his game to tremendous new heights in recent weeks, and its a huge testament to the adaptation and fine-tuning that Pep Guardiola has done to his side in such an unprecedented and unpredictable season.
Their win over Tottenham took their successive wins in all competitions to a resounding 16 games, and a sixth successive home win without conceding. From the goalkeeper Ederson, right down to the forwards, or should we say sheer rotation of “false-9s”, Manchester City have undergone a superb shift in mentality and winning aura with Ilkay Gundogan playing a key role in this unstoppable run.Embed from Getty Images
City are doing all this winning – and comfortably – without any recognized strikers, with Gabriel Jesus featuring sparingly and main hitman Sergio Aguero still out nursing an injury.
But, if you’ve taken any notice of the way Ilkay Gundogan has gone about his business since City’s upturn in form, you’d realise that they could play without Jesus and Aguero for the remainder of the campaign, and still remain pleasingly dominant. Make no mistake about it, Gundogan’s transformation in front of goal is no fluke.
Gundogan has taken up David Silva’s old “Mezzala” role, within the half-spaces, inside left, given the license to roam within that territory and use the ball in more advanced areas.
It’s why most of City’s goals have been created through players making off-the-ball runs to the byline, receiving a pass and cutting it back into the penalty area for players to tap in. Pep Guardiola has simply found a way to breach low-block defences and Gundogan has been evidently central to that discovery.
Earlier in the season, City were playing a much more compact, narrow style, with wingers cutting inside and Gundogan sitting deep, keeping the play ticking over alongside Rodri. That didn’t work, many were doubting City’s title credentials as a result. However, since the draw at Old Trafford in November, Guardiola has tweaked his side, pouring more men forward, including Gundogan.
City now keep the ball so well, not only because of the likes Gundogan, Bernardo Silva or Phil Foden but because Joao Cancelo and Oleksandr Zinchenko move into central midfield roles when City are in possession of the ball, which in turn allows Gundogan the license to wreak havoc in more advanced areas while Phil Foden and Raheem Sterling stretch the play, hugging the touchline to allow more room in the middle and attacking third, and that’s why Gundogan has so far notched 11 goals since the start of December.
As well as his 11 goals in 12 starts, he’s averaged 1.6 key passes, 3.24 passes into the final third, 7.59 progressive passes as well as 0.34 carries into the opponent’s penalty area. People may say that Phil Foden is the new David Silva, but in actual fact, its Ilkay Gundogan who has taken on that role.
Gundogan’s genius footballing IQ has attributed to his recent success. He knows where to run, knows where to hurt defences, as well picking up the right moments in the box to score goals. By placing the German in more advanced areas within a more forward-thinking team, his attacking output has remarkably increased. He’s much more of a goal threat now, in terms of creating chances, but most importantly finishing them.
Guardiola said in 2019 that “when Gundogan is close to the box, he arrives at the right tempo and the right moment to score a goal”, and that’s exactly how most of his 11 goals have come: arriving in the box at the right time. The first two, against West Brom, and against Newcastle were almost identical, bursting into the box to convert a Raheem Sterling cut-back, even at Anfield finishing off Phil Foden’s tremendous pass. Those goals, and his double against Tottenham also highlighted his incredible calmness and composure in front of goal.Embed from Getty Images
Gundogan is a tremendous footballer, and in recent weeks, has progressively morphed into a genius performer, a master tactician on the football pitch rather than when referring to a manager in the dugout. Ilkay Gundogan is the complete footballer right now, and there’s no reason why he can’t take his game much further. 11 goals in 12 games is the kind of stats you’d refer to Sergio Aguero, but who needs the Argentine when its a certain German midfielder putting in those tremendous numbers?
Pinch yourself all you want, but this is reality. Ilkay Gundogan’s current goalscoring form seriously is no fluke.
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