Player analysis: how Kovacic can fill the Ilkay Gundogan role

Manchester City confirmed that Ilkay Gundogan will not return to the club after his contract expired this summer.

The “former” captain wrote a heartfelt letter addressing his departure. Highlighting his fondness for the club, he reflected particularly on the season gone.

His huge influence and reliability both in the dressing room and on the pitch are undeniable. A player that could turn up in the biggest of moments; trophy wining moments.

Of course, City have had many “irreplaceable” players, yet somehow we continue to reach new heights and levels of success.

I suspect Pep Guardiola has much do with that. However, the recruitment within the club has had a clear vision for many years.

Manchester City are close to announcing the signing of Mateo Kovacic, who will take the number 8 shirt, according to sources close to the club. Given that he is a Premier League proven midfielder from a competitive team, he could be a fitting replacement for Gundogan.

Therefore, we provide player analysis to determine how Kovacic can step into the number 8’s boots.

Player analysis: Ilkay Gundogan

Gundogan has played various roles at Manchester City, and one of the keys to their success is the versatility of all players.

Pep Guardiola is a tactical master, and as a result the style of play and system changes from one season to the next.

The German international began his City career in a deeper midfield role creating a double pivot with Fernandinho. Following the Brazilians exit he formed a similar partnership with Rodri.

This meant that his responsibility to predict and break up the counter attack was an important aspect of his position. In developing this craft, he was able to play as the lone defensive midfielder in some games.

We could argue that this is one of the most crucial roles in a Guardiola set up. While possession is the best form of defence, the CDM must be prepared to act upon the opposition transition.

Nevertheless, this was not his typical position. His ability to intercept the opposition attack was far greater than his aerial duel or tackling abilities.

Still it is a role that requires to drop deeper when in possession to support the build up play and being the conduit between the first phase of play to the second. Ball progression to attackers and finding pockets of space to free up other attacking players.

A lone defensive midfielder is likely to be found behind the ball at all times due to the danger should the team lose possession. However, it was not the role that he called his own.

Advanced position 

Some of Gundogan’s greatest strengths were his intelligence, technical ability and close ball control. Guardiola changed the system to release the wing-back into the double pivot with Rodri.

This famously gave him the opportunity to find free space at the back post (think Aston Villa final game of the 21/22 season).

Shaun Goater once called him “the ghost at the back post”.

As Gundogan started occupying a more advanced position, he became crucial to attacking play. His movement and intelligence along with technical ability gave him more influence over City in the final third.

He had a knack of arriving in the box at precisely the right time. Resulting in higher overall goal contributions and cutting-edge within City’s attacking play.

Manchester City’s new shape in possession has been inspired and led to a treble, first ever Champions League and third consecutive Premier League title.

The 3-2-5 fluidity in possession has been beneficial to both the team and Gundogan. Allowing sustained yet controlled attack and minimising counterattacking opportunities for the opposition.

City’s former skipper even featured as a false nine in his time with the club. His spatial awareness and timing gave the blues the upper-hand, with rotating forward attackers.

Whether playing as a false nine or in a front five scanning for space before entering the box is paramount. This allowed him to understand where the defenders were likely to be once the move was made.

Following that, the timing of the run to avoid congested areas and for an opportunity to either create a chance or take the shot is a skill that Silky Ilkay had in abundance.

Many players arrive in the box at a good moment. Some lack the composure to meet the pass or cross and finish it.


60 goals, 37 assists and 396 chances created; 304 appearances. Ranking high amongst the team for progressive balls played. 15,821 passes – the most of any player since he joined the club. 91.3% pass completion rate.

Player analysis: Mateo Kovacic

Kovacic has typically played in a double pivot during his time at Chelsea. Meanwhile his role has been as a powerhouse box-to-box midfielder or deep-lying playmaker.

Kovacic is know for his work-rate off the ball which is a characteristic that Pep will love – something that we also see in Bernardo Silva.

With decent tackling ability and high pressing, he could help City to maintain the control they love and recycle possession where required.

Kovacic usually plays with a progressive style and carries the ball forward to engage with the final third. His strength on the ball in transition enables him to bypass the opposition midfield and bring attackers into the forward move.

This quality has been a critical element of Chelsea’s counterattacking play. An aspect of Manchester City that is often more measured and controlled. However, he could bring this additional dimension to the side.

His strength is paired with a natural burst of pace which allows him to play within tight spaces which is something we typically see from Manchester City players – from keeper to attackers.

The Croatian is known to be versatile. Another characteristic typical of Manchester City players. However, he is on the smaller side and ariel duels is a weakness – though we could say the same about Gundogan.

Stats for Chelsea:

221 appearances; 6 goals and 15 assists.

Player analysis: in conclusion 

While these players are different in style and technical ability, Kovacic has potential to fulfil a gaping gap that Gundogan leaves behind. Gundogan has played in a more advanced position that Kovacic over the years.

Pep Guardiola is not only a tactical mastermind; he develops players to new levels, especially midfielders.

Physically, Kovacic has strength and bursting runs ticked off. However, only time will tell us if he can match the intelligence, composure, spatial awareness and timing of runs of Silky Ilkay Gundogan.

Ultimately, no one can really replace the captain; one of a kind. No one can give us the memories that he has given us. Even so, we move forward as we have always done.

Tags Chelsea FC Football Transfers Ilkay Gundogan Manchester City Mateo Kovacic Pep Guardiola Player Analysis Tactical Analysis