Ilkay Gundogan is officially a Barcelona player, and will have a major role in the team’s defense of their La Liga title.
This one is a signing that fits like a glove.
He arrives without a transfer fee, and at the age of 32, will have two years, with an option of one extra, to help manage Xavi’s midfield.
Finally, Barcelona got one over Manchester City. This is a low-risk, high-reward piece of business, that will likely reap immediate rewards for the Blaugrana, while asking difficult questions of Pep Guardiola, especially if Bernardo Silva follows suit in departing the Citizens.
Gundogan arrived at Manchester City in 2016, the same year as the Catalan manager. His career in Sky Blue got off to a difficult start with injuries, but with time he established himself as an essential component of Pep’s midfield alongside Kevin De Bruyne.
What’s exciting about Gundogan’s resume isn’t just that he understands the Barcelona philosophy of keeping the ball, but rather the evolution that he experienced in Manchester City’s tactical approach from season to season.
The German is a proven winner who took five Premier League titles in six seasons.
He’s familiar with Barca’s preferred 4-3-3 formation, having run the midfield alongside De Bruyne, and traditional pivots like Fernandinho and Rodri.
With the departure of Sergio Busquets, however, it may not be as simple as playing Frenkie de Jong as a No.6, with Pedri and Gundogan as attacking midfielders in front of him, although in my opinion this is the most likely starting point.
Xavi will have to experiment tactically and help the team find a new structure and identity in the midfield.
Gundogan has played deeper in a double pivot, although it’s not ideal for him, and it’s hard to see the logic in going in this direction, other than to try it out as an experiment. It would put more pressure on Pedri as a 10, which on the flipside could also be seen as giving the young Spaniard more space and freedom to create.
Playing in a 4-2-3-1 may also benefit wingers like Ousmane Dembele and Raphinha who would have the whole flank to themselves to pick up the ball and run at defenders.
Most recently, Gundogan helped Manchester City win a historic treble, in yet another tactical evolution that saw his team play in a very attacking 3-2-4-1 formation, with none other than John Stones in a double pivot behind him, with the goal scoring monster Erling Haaland leading the attack in front.
Could Barcelona pull this off?
Maybe Eric Garcia alongside Frenkie de Jong, with Pedri and Gundogan in attacking roles, behind Robert Lewandowski, and flanked by Dembele and Gavi?
It depends on whether Xavi is willing to take risks, or whether he sticks with the more familiar 4-3-3.
With Gundogan, the manager will have a flexible player, with the intelligence to take on whatever roles or responsibilities that are given to him.
Best of all, this is a player with an instinct for scoring goals.
Recall when the German caught fire in 2020-2021, scoring 11 goals in 12 games as a false nine. What he proved then, and reminded us again last season, is his ability to deftly navigate the final third, with incredible timing and anticipation in front of goal.
Gundogan simply makes scoring look easy. That’s what the best goal scorers do.
I’m very excited to see the partnership with Pedri and Frenkie, but it does make me wonder whether Gavi is the odd man out.
Does this mean Gavi will be asked to play out on the wing, or will Xavi come up with a plan to utilize all four midfielders at the same time?
Or maybe Gundogan himself will be the one on the bench, fighting his way into the lineup.
Having depth, especially in the midfield, will be a big improvement for Barcelona, and you have to imagine that Gundogan will already have Xavi’s trust, which is important when you consider the underutilization of Franck Kessie and Pablo Torre, who spent most of last season on the bench.
Gundogan could be the signing of the summer for Barcelona.
Is another Manchester City recruit in Joao Cancelo on the way?
That one won’t come for free, but if Barca can acquire a proven full-back, in Cancelo one with the ability to play on both the right and left, then it’s already close to mission accomplished.
But further building out the midfield is always a top priority for any Barcelona team.
Welcome to Barcelona, Ilkay Gundogan.
Let’s get to work.