That Ilkay Gundogan was the first player signed by Pep Guardiola after taking over at Manchester City in 2016 speaks volumes of how highly the Catalan boss rates him. Tipped to lead the new era at the Etihad Stadium alongside top performers like Kevin De Bruyne and Raheem Sterling, the German was hindered by injury early on.
But Guardiola waited patiently for his prized asset to regain full fitness. He managed to make only nine starts and 10 appearances overall in the Premier League in the 2016/17 campaign and scored three goals.
That was his best performance in front of goal in each of his five seasons at Borussia Dortmund. It did not stop him from winning the Bundesliga and reaching the Champions League final with the Black and Yellows under Jurgen Klopp.
At City, the German international began to show his value in the 2017/18 campaign. He played a significant role as the Cityzens won the Premier League title in grand style. His 30 league games were shared equally between starts and substitute appearances.
This time, he scored four league goals. Although that was more than he had supplied in any of his six previous seasons with a top club. But there was more to come.
He featured prominently and recorded six league goals (a career-best) as City retained the league title holding off Liverpool in 2018/19. Yet, until recently, many have not seen him as a key player for the side. Guardiola certainly has all the while. His regular use of the player is proof.
The midfielder was the only player to start all of Manchester City’s Champions League matches last season. The other player to feature in the nine games the Blues played in the competition was Raheem Sterling. But the winger came in from the bench on three occasions. Despite scoring twice in that run of games, many City fans wondered why the manager put so much faith in Gundogan.
The 30-year-old is answering them on the pitch this season. With seven league goals already just half-way into the campaign, the German is enjoying his best output ever in front of goal.
It is worth noting that he scored just two goals in 31 appearances last term as City failed to replicate the form that saw the team blow the competition away. The team finished a distant second on the league table, 18 points behind Liverpool.
There appears to be a pattern here between Gundogan’s performance and City’s success. In the two seasons he failed to make a significant contribution, the team performed well below expectations. Other seasons where he exceeded expectations, the team did as well.
If that trend is anything to go by, it does seem the team is set to achieve remarkable success this season. In that case, the midfielder’s recent top form for City during which he has shattered his previous goal scoring record could be a good omen.