Ilkay Gundogan scored as Manchester City beat West Ham 2-1 to go second in the Premier League table.
The strike came in a snow-swept stadium as the first half was rocked by almost blizzard conditions. Just beyond the half-hour mark, amid the snow-covered grass, Gundogan appeared at the back-post to tap home and cap off a delightful team move.
Fernandinho made it 2-0 in the 90th minute, putting the result beyond all doubt, and Manuel Lanzini scored a stunning consolation effort with the literal last kick of the game. But Gundogan was the man who delivered for City when they needed it most.
The goal was his 3rd of the season, leaving him well off the pace he set last year when he was City’s top scorer with 17, including a massive 13 in the Premier League. However as much as his goalscoring has dropped off, his influence remains massive.
Gundogan led City out today, wearing the rainbow laces captain’s armband he took control in midfield and, along with Rodri and Joao Cancelo, was chiefly responsible for City’s masterful control of the ball and the match-state too.
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In brutal conditions, Gundogan linked midfield and attack supremely. While Joao Cancelo, Kyle Walker and Rodri kept the ball ticking over it was Gundogan who made sure City weren’t just pinging the ball around safe areas, allowing West Ham to defend without expending any effort. That’s the key thing with Guardiola’s sides: passing with ambition so even your possession makes the defence work.
Gundogan had 81 touches, completing an incredible 56/58 passes (97% accuracy). He created a game-high 4 chances, including setting up Fernandinho’s game-winner by getting the deftest of touches of Gabriel Jesus’ cutback.
But it was the goal in the first half that so made the difference, with Gundogan appearing at the back-post to finish a move that began near the half-way line as Joao Cancelo launched a gorgeous switch of play to find Riyad Mahrez who had vacated his central striking position to drift out wide on the right. The Algerian took the ball and slid it across a snow-covered box and there was Gundogan, tapping it home.
For his efforts, captain on the day Gundogan was awarded man of the match. And while all the drama at the end of the game will overshadow how key he was to City’s display, anyone who watched City so calmly and casually dominate the game through a blizzard will know how massive Gundogan was. And now the question becomes: can he re-find his goalscoring form?
Because if he can… City become a much more terrifying prospect.