This article is part of Football FanCast’s One to Watch series, which focuses on those players we think are particularly worth keeping an eagle-eye on as the 2019/20 season unfolds.
Ilkay Gundogan is facing a decisive period in his Manchester career as the midfielder enters the final year of his contract with the Premier League Champions.
It’s fair to say that after a trophyless first season the Citizens have reaped the rewards of Pep Guardiola’s influence, with City have securing six trophies in the following two years.
Gundogan has been a key part of this success, perhaps not always as a regular starter, but certainly as an important squad player.
In his time at City he’s contributed some vital goals, including a memorable brace against Barcelona in 2016, and also his header against Manchester United in 2018 that rounded off an incredible 44-pass move.
And who can forget the goal that put the 2019 Premier League title beyond any reasonable doubt, one which saw him exquisitely arc a wonderful free-kick into Brighton’s goal.
At times he’s been used as a supporting central midfielder, sometimes as a replacement for the more advanced Kevin De Bruyne, but his best form came last season as a holding midfielder, where his performances improved perpetually across 31 league appearances, proving that he is capable of replacing the ever-reliable Fernandinho.
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The midfielder’s competition has intensified since the arrival of Rodri from Atletico Madrid, while Phil Foden’s emergence is a pertinent factor to consider.
His role as a starting holding midfielder looks questionable, and with De Bruyne, Bernardo Silva, Foden and David Silva all vying for a starting place in more advanced midfield roles, it’s clear that the former Dortmund star is facing his most challenging season since setting foot in Manchester.
With a year left on his contract, it would make sense for Guardiola to prioritise alternate options for the long-term, but the Spaniard’s faith in Gundogan suggests it’s far too early to pigeon hole him as a bit-part player.
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Regular starting opportunities in the Premier League and the Champions League will be the aim.
Guardiola understands his value, saying after a City’s 4-0 Champions League win against Basel: “Gundogan is an extraordinary player. Last season we missed him a lot for the six months he was out with an injury.
“That’s why we’re so satisfied for the performance – not just for the goals for the quality he has, for the personality to play. He played fantastic.”
The upcoming season will be an audition for the midfielder to earn a new deal at City – if he even wants one – and to showcase his class to potential suitors.
Shifting dynamics and new signings make his individual progress a compelling one to keep an eye on in the 2019/20 season.
Gundogan should target (all competitions):
Appearances = 30
Starts = 20
Goals = 5
Assists = 7