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Gundogan the under-appreciated star of the Guardiola era at Man City

Ultimately, Ilkay Gundogan made himself something of a villain as he missed a penalty kick to make the final stages of Manchester City’s 2-1 win over Leeds United more nervy than they needed to be, but the German had already afforded himself some leeway by finding the back of the net twice earlier in the match.

Gundogan has started 25 of Manchester City’s 34 Premier League fixtures this season, coming off the bench in four more. The 32-year-old has also chipped in with six goals and eight assists, helping to push Pep Guardiola’s team to the top of the table. Gundogan is among City’s most important players, and has been for a number of seasons.

It’s been seven years since Gundogan arrived at the Etihad Stadium from Borussia Dortmund. Signed for just £20m, the German international has proved excellent value for money, making close to 300 appearances over seven seasons. Guardiola’s time in charge would have looked very different without Gundogan.

“I remember one season when we won the second Premier League when Fernandinho was injured for a long time and he played as holding midfielder in games like against Burnley away with the long balls, second balls and… wow… he played,” said Guardiola when asked to assess Gundogan’s time at City.

“I said I had the feeling that without him we couldn’t win the Premier League. He’s so intelligent Gundo, so clever and competitive. Under pressure he handles it without a problem. He’s one of the best players I ever trained in my career in terms of the whole package. He’s top, top class.”

Guardiola is right to highlight the number of different roles Gundogan has performed for Manchester City. He has succeeded as a midfield anchor and a deep-lying playmaker. By trade, Gundogan was a box-to-box midfielder when he arrived at City and he also played in this manner in the Premier League.

Most recently, Guardiola has pushed Gundogan closer to goal with John Stones’ move into central midfield giving the German and Kevin de Bruyne more freedom in the attacking third of the pitch. The 32-year-old has scored 14 Premier League goals over the last two seasons and looks sharper in front of goal than at any other stage of his career.

Despite this, it’s increasingly likely Gundogan will depart the Premier League champions at the end of the season, when his contract will expire. Barcelona reportedly want to sign the German with Xavi Hernandez eager to strengthen his midfield before the start of the 2022/23 campaign. Gundogan would certainly improve Barca.

There is a skill to knowing when to move on players even as they remain useful. Sir Alex Ferguson was among the best at this, constantly evolving Manchester United to keep his team competitive at the elite level over two decades. With this in mind, Guardiola might have to make a difficult decision on Gundogan’s future.

Jude Bellingham is believed to be on Manchester City’s radar and it’s difficult to envisage how the England international and Gundogan would fit into the same team. With Arsenal expected to strengthen again this summer and Liverpool almost certain to be better next season, City need to keep pushing.

Regardless of what happens this summer, Gundogan deserves to go down as one of the stars of the Guardiola era at Manchester City even if he doesn’t always get the credit to go along with this status. In many ways, he embodies everything Guardiola looks for in a player and he’s not finished contributing to the success of the Etihad Stadium club.

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