Pep Guardiola’s arrival at Manchester City will trigger the reconfiguration of a side who have become accustomed to following a familiar blueprint.
With a spine of players consisting of Joe Hart, Vincent Kompany, Yaya Toure, David Silva and Sergio Aguero, particular methods and patterns have been prevalent at the Etihad Stadium for years now. It’s a formula under Manuel Pellegrini and Roberto Mancini which has underpinned the club’s most successful spell in its history.
But it’s a nexus of players which is in its final knockings. Guardiola’s challenge will be to reconstruct a new core, introduce a fresh stylistic template and the increasingly likely capture of Ilkay Gundogan tells us plenty about the direction he’ll seek to take this team in.
Pondering how City would fare with the midfielder in the side is not a futile exercise either. Links between the Borussia Dortmund man and a move to the north-west have extended beyond tabloid chatter, with Oliver Kay writing in the Times that the two clubs are “on the brink” of a £30 million agreement.
That the Premier League side are willing to pay such a significant amount for a player who only has one year remaining on his contract with BVB is indicative of how keen the club are to get the 25-year-old on board.
In his role as Bayern Munich boss, Guardiola was fast to acquire a classy controller from Barcelona in Thiago Alcantara, a player who has been at the playmaking crux of a side geared towards smothering opponents.
It was a capture which set a precedent for Guardiola’s three campaigns at the Allianz Arena and you wonder whether Gundogan is a player who will do the same at the Etihad. Because the Germany international is a footballer who seems to embody the way in which the next City boss will seek to set his team up next term with the unique demands of English football in mind.
While there’s a blueprint which Guardiola abides by, he’s shown an overlooked willingness to adapt during his stint in the Bundesliga.
The captures of Douglas Costa, Kingsley Coman and Arturo Vidal last summer have given Bayern a raw edge that’s not associated with the coach. They’re players who are a little imprecise, but allow the team to be adaptable in playing style.
Gundogan is a similar kind of capture. He’s not a player who would have necessarily thrived at Guardiola’s Barcelona, which was based on immaculate passers and sublime technicians probing meticulously, but one who is adept in different systems. And certainly a player who can make a massive impression in the Premier League.
That’s because Gundogan is a footballer who is so multifaceted. Under Jurgen Klopp he blossomed as a rampaging box-to-box midfield, arguably becoming the key player in the Dortmund side which surged into the Champions League final in 2013.
During that campaign Gundogan was sensational. His ability to mix a mastery of the ball with zealous vertical surges epitomized the high-intensity football played under Klopp. Indeed, perhaps it was no surprise that once the midfielder picked up a debilitating injury, Dortmund’s temporary demise begun.
Sadly, while back at full fitness and enjoying a wonderful season under Thomas Tuchel this term, Gundogan’s spell on the sidelines, which lasted over a year, due to a spinal cord compression have robbed him the almost incomparable industry which made him one of the finest midfielders on the continent in the 2012-13 season.
As a result, he’s had to tweak his game under Tuchel, with a slightly greater emphasis on controlling as opposed to rampaging. Gundogan is still a box-to-box presence— only Henrikh Mkhitaryan has more dribbles for Dortmund in 2015-16—but only three players have averaged more passes per game in the German top flight this season than him and none have more in the final third.
It’s a hybrid role which you can envisage him taking on at City, the kind which Toure, who is 33 next month, has been deployed in down the years for this team. There’s been heavy speculation about the Ivorian’s future, though, and in recent weeks, we’ve seen signs that City are a more cohesive outfit without him in the XI. A replacement looks as though it’ll be needed.
Stepping in for a player who will be remembered as one of the finest midfielders the Premier League has seen could be daunting task for Gundogan. But he’s one of a select group of midfield men in European football capable of carrying out this duty with distinction, even though there are obvious differences in the way the two play the game.
That City are already reportedly in advanced talks with the player suggests Guardiola thinks so too, with Arsenal, Manchester United and Liverpool all linked with the Dortmund in the past. Reading between the lines, getting this one done seems to be an urgent matter at the Etihad.
And you can see why. For a manager who places great emphasis on keeping the ball and pressing high up the pitch, a bespoke brand of midfielder is needed. Gundogan will tick plenty of the boxes on Guardiola’s checklist.
HT Oulala (infographic)
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