The underrated brilliance of Ilkay Gundogan

After his impressive showing in the Champions League quarterfinal against Malaga, looks at the 22 year old, and points towards his importance to the German side.
When Nuri Sahin decided to leave Borussia Dortmund and join Spanish giants Real Madrid, he left a creative hole in the center of midfield.  It would cost club manager Jurgen Klopp a reasonable €4.5 million to find a solution to his problem. The player he signed was the young and dynamic midfielder Ilkay Gundogan from Nuremberg.

The highly rated midfielder was signed in May 2011, then 21, on a four year deal, and found himself in the role left by the departing Sahin. Cue two years later, Sahin found himself on the bench for Dortmund, watching on as Gundogan ran the show in their Champions league encounter against Malaga in the midweek. When you think Borussia Dortmund, the first names to roll off your tongue would be Marco Reus, Mario Gotze and Robert Lewandowski, but Gundogan has been just as crucial to the success of the black and yellows.

He has somehow managed to avoid the public spotlight that has fallen over the German club. While everyone continues to applaud performances of Dortmund’s attack, Gundogan, born in Germany to Turkish parents has quietly been going about his work.

His importance to the Dortmund side can be underlined by the fact, that this season the reigning German champions have yet to manage a win where Gundogan has not been part of, losing twice and drawing thrice.

His performances for his club, have also not missed the eye of Germany coach Joachim Low and have hailed his development in the past two years, and thinks the midfielder can become world class in the future.

Gundogan did not have a smooth ride initially, when he was signed by Klopp before the start of last season. The expectations on him seemed to hinder his progress and he failed to impress the Dortmund faithful in the first six months. The manager instead chose to relieve the pressure of his shoulders by offering him a bit-part role which allowed him to settle into the squad.

The Signal Iduna Park would then witness why the German media held the youngster in such high regard. He would go on to start 11 of the last 12 Bundesliga games, including the crucial 1-0 victory over rivals Bayern Munich in April 2012. His performances for BVB, would earn him a Euro 2012 call-up, but he did not come off from the bench in the tournament.

This season Gundogan has improved his game and currently finds himself playing as a deep-lying playmaker. The German has been excelling in the role utilizing the full extent of his vision, passing range and close control on the ball. He sets the tempo of the game for Dortmund, as was seen in the Champions League quarterfinal first leg against Malaga.

While everyone was focusing on Lewandowski and Gotze, it was Gundogan, who was setting the platform for all of their exciting play, linking up the defence and attack efficiently. The stats back up the excellent season that the German is having with a pass success rate of 86.6% in the Bundesliga this season. He has also been credited with 2.6 interceptions per game in 23 appearances for the black and yellow outfit.

Another facet to his game that has impressed many observers is his ability to bring the full-backs into the game, and also his long ball accuracy of 77% this season. His work rate is also one to notice, and this helps Klopp, who prefers to play a high pressing game.

The Dortmund midfielder seems to save his best for rivals Bayern Munich and it is of no surprise that one of his best performances has come against them. The match took place on December 1 last year and interesting put Gundogan up against another promising and highly rated Spanish midfielder, Javi Martinez. The German was confident and his work rate helped the BVB side to come out with a hard fought 1-1 draw. Both of the players managed to showcase their full range of talent, but it was Gundogan that left a bigger impression on viewers after the game.

There are still aspects to his game play which the German could possibly look to improve with goal scoring amongst one of them. He has only managed a solitary goal this season and while the front four have enough about them to score the goals for BVB, it could only help his game by adding some goals to it.

If Malaga wants to have any chance in the second leg against BVB, they would do well to notice the impact Gundogan had on the game, and try to find a way to possibly negate the danger from the young midfielder.

The improvement in Gundogan’s game has been enormous in the past year and a half. The next step for the German would be to try and find a regular place in the national squad. He was given a start against France, due to the unavailability of Bastian Schweinsteiger and impressed everyone with his mature performance. His performance even led, former Nationalelf star, Gunter Netzer, to point out that, "With his capabilities and consistent performances, I see Schweinsteiger's place at risk, despite his great contribution to the national team." 

If his rise is anything to go by, it may not take long for him to take over from the Bayern Munich vice captain.

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