Ilkay Gundogan’s Barcelona impression: He’s now Europe’s most prolific creator


A powerful stat surfaced after Barcelona’s 4-0 victory over Getafe on Saturday: Ilkay Gundogan had turn into the primary participant in Europe’s high 5 leagues to create 100 possibilities this season.

When he joined Barca final summer time there was some scrutiny over his signing — a 33-year-old arriving on a three-year deal, with a reported yearly wage of €9million (£7.7m; $9.7m at present charges) after tax.

Time will inform whether or not that funding continues to repay however eight months later, it actually appears to be like a great one. Gundogan has offered 10 assists (probably the most within the group) and scored 5 objectives throughout 38 video games in all competitions. He’s Xavi’s most used participant (greater than 3,000 on-pitch minutes) and his best. No Barca midfielder has matched the standard of his performances.

Gundogan’s need for fulfillment stays undiminished (as proven by his phrases of frustration after October’s Clasico defeat by Actual Madrid) and his versatility has helped clear up a number of the group’s largest tactical issues — typically to the detriment of his alternatives to create possibilities in assault, which makes this weekend’s landmark all of the extra spectacular.

Let’s begin by dissecting the stats.

Gundogan’s whole of 100 possibilities created in all competitions needs to be contextualised. First, he begins for a group concerned in a European competitors, so has performed extra soccer than many others. He’s additionally his group’s common set-piece taker.

Of these 100 possibilities, 30 got here by way of set items — however even then, his tally of 70 open-play possibilities is just bettered by Manchester Metropolis’s Phil Foden, with 72.

If we focus simply on La Liga gamers, Isco is closest to Gundogan, though the Actual Betis midfielder suffered a hamstring harm this month that would hold him out for the remainder of the season.

Additionally in Spain’s high 10 are Toni Kroos, Alex Baena, Ivan Rakitic, Iago Aspas and Takefusa Kubo — all common set-piece takers. If we deal with possibilities created from open play, Gundogan’s lead appears to be like even more healthy. Actual Madrid’s Jude Bellingham is his closest rival (58 open-play possibilities), however even he’s a way behind.

In the case of rating Gundogan amongst his Barca team-mates, his creativity turns into even starker. Full-back Joao Cancelo is the closest to him (37 possibilities created).

As talked about, Gundogan has performed probably the most minutes of the Barca squad, however that’s actually not cause sufficient for him to be thus far forward. For context, he’s, on common, creating 3.0 possibilities per 90 minutes, whereas Cancelo has created 1.5 per 90. Gundogan’s closest rival at Barca is Raphinha, who’s creating 2.8 possibilities per 90 from a considerably smaller pattern measurement.

The numbers verify a sense that was shortly established amongst Barca’s supervisor and his teaching workers this time period.

“When Gundogan has the ball, the whole lot will get higher,” Xavi stated after September’s 5-0 win over Royal Antwerp within the Champions League. “He does the whole lot nicely, completely the whole lot. If we play nicely, it’s due to guys like him. His signing was heaven-sent, truthfully. He’s a superlative participant, a complete pleasure to observe.”

Earlier than this weekend’s win at house to Getafe, Xavi added additional reward. “Gundogan could make the distinction as a deep-lying midfielder but additionally between the strains. He can do it wherever,” he stated. “He’s having an impressive season in numbers, but additionally with what he provides to the group. He’s a basic piece of the group.”

Gundogan’s versatility has been a giant optimistic for Barcelona this season however the reality they’ve relied on that so closely additionally reveals the group’s dysfunctions.

Barcelona (and particularly Xavi) had deliberate to make use of Gundogan primarily as one other inventive pressure within the ultimate third. The supervisor believed 21-year-old Pedri, who had been combating harm in consecutive seasons, wanted a accomplice in that division.

However of Gundogan’s 23 La Liga begins this season, solely 12 have come as an attacking midfielder. As a substitute, he has typically discovered himself overlaying additional again.

Gundogan and Oriol Romeu in August (Siu Wu/image alliance through Getty Photos)

In the summertime, Xavi deliberate to make use of Oriol Romeu as Sergio Busquets’s alternative within the anchor function — a really robust act to observe. Regardless of promising indicators in pre-season, Romeu’s performances shortly turned him right into a legal responsibility in Xavi’s eyes.

The final straw for the supervisor got here after uninspiring September shows at Porto within the Champions League and Mallorca in La Liga. Each opponents profited from placing strain on Romeu, who struggled to seek out options.

That was when Xavi determined to deploy Gundogan right into a extra defensive place, with Romeu shedding his place. It was not a brand new place for him — he carried out there with Manchester Metropolis — neither is it one he dislikes, however it isn’t the place Barcelona want him most.

As soon as extra, the group was left wanting what they have been on the lookout for within the ultimate third, main Xavi to the thought of reinventing centre-back Andreas Christensen as a holding midfielder this month, with Gundogan relocated again to his most popular spot increased up the pitch.

Is Christensen a perfect match? Presumably not. However is it a good value to pay to allow Gundogan to play nearer to the field? It clearly is for Xavi, because it’s been his recreation plan for the previous 5 matches.

Regardless of beginning practically half of his video games this season as a defensive midfielder, nobody within the Barcelona squad has accomplished greater than Gundogan’s 49 passes into the opponent’s penalty space. Lamine Yamal has 47, whereas Frenkie de Jong and Cancelo share third spot with 33. Gundogan additionally tops the group’s rating in ‘progressive passes’ accomplished (people who transfer the ball in direction of the opponent’s objective at the very least 10 yards from its furthest level within the final six passes, or any accomplished move into the penalty space).

Nevertheless, it’s not solely Gundogan’s passing and creativity that pushed Xavi to rethink his line-up — it’s additionally his ability at crashing into the field.

Listed below are two prime examples from the final month.

Within the screengrab under, from Saturday’s match towards Getafe, Raphinha has the ball on the best flank, ready for team-mates to affix the transfer earlier than crossing. Gundogan arrives at full tempo, indicating the area he plans to assault behind the defence.

Raphinha sends the ball to the best spot, with Gundogan unmarked because of a wonderfully timed run — however he couldn’t join correctly along with his header on objective.

Wanting a bit additional again to Barcelona’s La Liga journey to Alaves on February 3, we will discover one other prime instance of Gundogan’s motion — and this time, he did discover the again of the web.

The screengrab under exhibits Pedri receiving the ball on the left wing, with Gundogan shortly becoming a member of the assault from a deeper place. Pedri is sensible sufficient to learn the state of affairs and anticipate him to make his run.

From right here, Gundogan fakes a transfer to the close to put up, drawing the eye of Alaves defender Ruben Duarte. On the identical time, he signifies to Pedri that his ultimate vacation spot would be the far put up the place there may be now area, with Duarte having been dragged out of place.

The connection between them does the remaining. Pedri crosses to the precise spot for Gundogan, who finds the again of the web with an ideal volley.

No Barca participant performs these sorts of actions higher than Gundogan, and it hasn’t gone unnoticed by Xavi.

Of their Champions League last-16 first leg at Napoli, the supervisor tailored his system to get the most effective out of Gundogan, enjoying him as a No 10 in a 4-2-3-1 formation that noticed Pedri in an unfamiliar function as a ‘false’ left-winger. Gundogan was the most effective gamers on the pitch within the 1-1 draw on February 21.

Gundogan needs to turn into a frontrunner at Barca in the way in which he was at Manchester Metropolis, the place he was captain. He isn’t recognized to be probably the most vocal member of a dressing room, however former team-mates on the Premier League membership instructed The Athletic his work ethic and the requirements he units on the pitch did all of the speaking mandatory.

If there’s any potential criticism he may face, it’s in conditions the place his lack of tempo has been uncovered in fast defensive transitions. He’s older than a typical box-to-box midfielder and Barcelona’s disorganised high-pressing system can depart him susceptible.

Right here, there’s a comparability to attract with Busquets, the legendary midfielder who has been deeply missed by members of the teaching workers, who imagine his departure was not correctly coated.

Regardless that Busquets was a generational expertise, arguably the most effective ever in his place, he didn’t escape criticism in his ultimate campaigns on the membership. However once more, that criticism needs to be certified — as quickly as Barca misplaced their construction and left Busquets on his personal to cowl broad areas, he was powerless. When gamers like Busquets and Gundogan provoke followers’ ire, questions could be higher requested of the system, fairly than the person.


That stated, Gundogan’s spectacular returns mustn’t make him proof against the criticism levelled on the group as a complete and, by the sounds of it, he’s greater than conscious of that himself.

“Every one in every of us can enhance what we’re including to the group. We’re acting at a decrease stage than our expectations originally of the season,” he stated in a current interview with Catalan newspaper La Vanguardia.

On the identical time, members of the participant’s camp imagine his numbers would simply be higher if Barcelona had not been so wasteful in entrance of objective. Based on information on La Liga matches from, Gundogan has the largest discrepency between assists and anticipated assists (xAG) in Barca’s squad this season (-2.3), suggesting his team-mates are changing the possibilities he creates at a below-average fee.

It’s one other revealing determine in a season that has introduced a actuality verify at Barcelona and poured extra doubts over the membership’s long-term challenge, with Xavi leaving on the finish of the marketing campaign.

However there must be little doubt about Gundogan’s impression.

(High picture: Angel Martinez/Getty Photos)


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