Ilkay Gundogan has rarely been the center of attention among Manchester City’s vast array of stars, but once again the unassuming frontman is playing a pivotal role in the run-in.
It was his winning goal that took City to the title on the final day of last season, battling back 2-0 against Aston Villa to win 3-2 and spark scenes of celebration at the Etihad Stadium.
With a potential six games remaining in their pursuit of the treble, captain Gundogan is quietly making his mark in the most crucial part of the campaign.
The German midfielder scored two lavish goals and provided an assist for Erling Haaland’s goal as City overtook Everton 3-0 to close out the weekend needing just two wins from their last three matches to clinch another title triumph.
“He doesn’t talk a lot but when he does everyone listens, that’s the power of a leader,” said Pep Guardiola.
“He shows his leadership in every training session, arriving on time, living his job. He can also play defensively in midfield in games like against Burnley last season when you need physicality.
“He’s so smart, so intelligent and can handle pressure really well.”
The 32-year-old made his 300th appearance for City against Everton and scored his fourth goal in his last two league appearances, both key contributions to the team’s efforts for the Treble.
“Every game is crucial, like a final,” Gundogan told Sky Sports. “Over the last few years this place has been very difficult for us. We think this is a big win.
“We have a very experienced team and it’s not a new situation for us, playing the last games of the season with someone else. The margin is very slim and we know that, but the fact that we have experienced this moment in the past helps us a lot.”
Guardiola hopes ‘star man’ Gundogan will stay
City will face long-distance rivals Manchester United in the FA Cup final and could travel to Istanbul for the Champions League final if they overtake Real Madrid in the second leg of Wednesday’s semi-final.
But that potential date with Fate on June 10 could also be Gundogan’s swan song, with the captain out of contract at the end of the season and heavily linked with a move to La Liga giants Barcelona.
“He can show again and again and again the quality, the importance and his commitment to all of us,” Guardiola said. “Not just scoring goals, he has the momentum and he can do anything.”
Gundogan’s first goal against Everton was sublime skill, controlling Riyad Mahrez’s pass before latching a back-to-goal finish, and his second was an accurate free-kick from the edge of the box.
Guardiola asked the club to do everything possible to keep the player. “I told the club,” he said. “Nobody knows what will happen. I hope he stays.”
Former City midfielder Patrick Vieira said on Sky Sports: “He’s a really top player and he’s shown his talent from the free kick – the technical ability to get the ball where he wants .
“He’s really smart with the timing of his run to get into the box, he’s one of the best in the league [at that].”
Former Everton midfielder Leon Osman said on BBC Radio 5 Live: “It was once again exceptional from Ilkay Gundogan. He is a real player for this Manchester City team. He grew season after season and scored crucial goals.
“The game ended like a contest in the 51st minute when Ilkay Gundogan put that one in the top corner, a wonderful free kick. He was the star man today.”