Is Ilkay Gundogan unusual deal for Barcelona? Kind of, however Xavi is completely satisfied

When Barcelona missed out on signing Lionel Messi, coach Xavi and the membership’s sporting administrators shortly turned to Ilkay Gundogan.

The Spanish champions had been talking with participant representatives since early 2023, however accelerated their pursuit this month. The Manchester Metropolis captain will formally be a part of them on a free switch on July 1.

Barcelona’s work within the switch market is restricted as a result of their monetary issues. The membership remains to be closely indebted and nonetheless unable to signal new gamers as it’s in breach of La Liga’s guidelines on wage spending. And people charged with discovering an answer to this can maintain a key assembly on Wednesday – and the athlete He’ll report in additional element on this later this week.

However at this time’s focus is on Gundogan as a result of trying past his undoubted high quality and expertise, there’s an argument that his signing will not be essentially the most logical first transfer of the summer season for a membership that should bolster different key positions whereas cash is tight, together with In that defensive midfield. Gundogan will turn into one of many highest paid gamers within the crew.

right here, Athletic John Muller and Pol Ballus discover this argument and share extra particulars on how Barcelona sees match.

John Mueller: “Gundugan doesn’t have a transparent position that might enhance Barcelona’s beginning line-up instantly”

Ilkay Gundogan is a wonderful participant. Everybody agrees. No, he’s not younger at 32, however even two weeks in the past he was nonetheless a key determine at Guardiola Metropolis, beginning nearly each huge sport all the way in which to a hat-trick. For Barcelona, ​​signing a veteran midfielder of his caliber on a free switch appears to be like, on the face of it, like a feat.

By way of fashion, there’s a lot to like concerning the Catalan membership right here. Gundogan is technically expert and tactically adroit, and has educated in the identical positional play that Xavi realized from Guardiola. He is an efficient brief passer who can play between the traces in tight areas and is a greater runner off the ball, with a selected knack for slipping into the penalty space from a striker’s shoulder to attain an astonishing variety of targets. Extra importantly for a Barcelona facet who lived off their protection final season, he was additionally a intelligent piece in Guardiola’s urgent schemes.

By way of the position, although, the place he suits is much less clear. The priority, in brief, is that his finest place is Pedri and his second favourite belongs to Frenkie de Jong, And whereas he’ll add a brand new dimension to Barcelona’s assault, he will not be the kind the crew is in search of.

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In Metropolis’s 3-2-2-3 final spring – which Xavi shortly tailored to Barcelona – Gundogan lined up because the left attacking midfielder, working between the traces and favoring the left half, with Pedri additionally preferring to function. , whereas Kevin De Bruyne went out to both wing, much like Javi. If Gundogan performs alongside Pedri, certainly one of them will transfer to the suitable, as neither right-hander feels solely comfy curling inwards on the high of the field.

It’s true that Pedri was generally paced over the previous season in order that Javi might play as a false left winger, a task that included staying excessive and vast early in coaching after which turning inside when left-back Alejandro Balde darted up the road. Gundogan doesn’t have the legs to fake to be a winger and has by no means been the type of midfielder who runs vast and crosses. This is able to make him fully unsuitable for a false left winger position or a proper attacking midfield slot for Barcelona, ​​the place Jaffe’s overlapping line helps create house for the suitable winger (Osmane Dembele or Rafinha) to face the defenders. -v-one, the supply of a lot of the creativity in Xavi’s assault.

How about one thing deeper? In years previous, Gundogan fell alongside Rodri within the Metropolis build-up as a left midfielder. He isn’t the coordinating, high-volume sort who performs the ball consistently, tidying up the facet, however he’s clear and environment friendly at linking play. The issue, once more, is that he has traditionally favored the left facet. That is de Jong’s turf, the place he’s coming off his finest season in a Barcelona shirt. Both midfielder can play on the suitable, with Sergio Busquets often working alongside De Jong, however as a pair they could not present sufficient defensive cowl. Xavi’s experiences with Eric Garcia within the position recommend he desires a John Stones hybrid to put anchor in entrance of the backline whereas De Jong roams.

The phrase is that Xavi sees Gundogan primarily as an attacking midfielder, a supply of creativity to energy his assault by way of the center and take a few of the load off the wings. It means that he’ll alternate with Pedri and Javi and play one thing like his final position with Metropolis. However what sort of creativity will he add?

In six seasons at Metropolis, in among the finest assaults on this planet, Gundogan averaged 0.15 passes anticipated per 90 minutes. That is nearer to the extent of likelihood creation De Jong (0.15 xA per 90 final season) and Gavi (0.13) than it’s to Pedri (0.23). Gundogan’s finest attacking numbers got here in 2021-22, when he performed a secondary position in a facet that as a rule used one and even two false numbers, permitting him to slide into the field extra. Throughout 2022-23, Gundogan has been working with a standard striker in Erling Haaland, greater than only a maker, not often making high-value pictures. When he performs passes into the penalty space, it’s often brief, wide-angled balls to a runner on the left facet of the field – a sort of move that fits Haaland way over Lewandowski.

As a substitute of ending balls, what Gundogan gives is a second runner within the penalty space, who is nice at sneaking into harmful pockets behind and to the left of the striker. That is one thing neither Pedri nor Gavi do fairly often, and it might give Lewandowski some much-needed assist to complete Barcelona’s assaults. It’s potential to think about Pedri and Dembele dealing with the gradual passing whereas Gundogan runs the left channel as an help aim.

The underside line is that Barcelona get a gifted and versatile participant in Gundogan, however not a conspicuous participant who would enhance the beginning line-up instantly. He might find yourself being an all-purpose depth possibility behind Pedri, De Jong and Gavi, the closest to Pedri in place and elegance however able to filling in for any of the three. This isn’t a nasty piece so as to add, nevertheless it’s not an enormous improve or answer to their greatest workplace wants.

Paul Ballos: “Gundogan is the best choice Barcelona needed to strengthen in what they see as a key discipline”

Gundogan’s signing solves a giant drawback that Xavi first recognized final April and has been making an attempt to resolve since then.

Barcelona completed the 2021-22 season with out Pedri, who suffered a hamstring damage within the Europa League, which misplaced to Eintracht Frankfurt. They actually missed him as their season wore off; With out the younger star midfielder, the crew lacked tempo and creativity in assault.

That summer season, as quickly as Xavi knew Lewandowski was going to signal, a plan was put in place so as to add energy in depth on the wings, with the purpose of supporting Pedri in his artistic obligations.

With among the finest hunters on this planet in your crew, it made sense for the supervisor to attempt to add extra gamers vast to provide his new goal man.

Nevertheless, the main finale for Xavi since his first full season at Barcelona has seen a change in technique. He now sees that to be able to get his crew to play the soccer they need, he has to belief his midfielders greater than his wingers.

A mid-season tactical shift noticed Barcelona do exactly that, with a four-man midfielder system serving to propel the crew to La Liga victory. This alteration impressed their finest performances however once more – when accidents hit, there have been issues.

Within the final El Clasico of the season, when Actual Madrid beat Barcelona 4-0 within the second leg of the Copa del Rey semi-final, Xavi had to make use of Sergi Roberto and Frank Kessie in attacking midfield. Wants extra depth within the scenario.

Proper after profitable La Liga this season, Xavi mentioned, in response to a query from who the athlete On the change in his tactical strategy.

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“We felt we dealt with possession higher within the opposition half, so I gave precedence to gamers who don’t lose possession. On the finish of the day, that’s how I see soccer. For me, soccer is about midfielders, or gamers who don’t lose possession.”

Ilkay Gundogan (Picture: Will Palmer/SportsPhoto/Allstar By way of Getty Pictures)

When Pedri and Javi had been absent, it was clear that Barcelona didn’t have anybody who might work the interior pockets of the ultimate third of the sector as Xavi would really like. That is the place Gundogan is available in. Now they’ve arguably the perfect European trio on this division.

There’s a case to be made that, trying on the numbers and evaluating them to Pedri and Jaffe, Gundogan’s affect won’t essentially be transformative. However there’s one other main purpose why the membership pushed so exhausting to signal him – variety.

Gundogan landed in Manchester from Borussia Dortmund in 2016 as a traditional quantity eight. Three years later, when he helped Guardiola’s facet win a second successive Premier League title, he acted as the only central midfielder as Metropolis completed the season with 14 consecutive victories.

In 2021, Metropolis had been topped English champions, with Gundogan recurrently enjoying as a false 9. He completed that season because the crew’s high scorer within the league, with 13 targets. Throughout 2022-23, when Metropolis received the treble, he was primarily enjoying as a quantity 10 by the point the important video games got here round. In easy phrases, he did all of it. He listened, realized and executed.

On the age of 32, some may query the knowledge of providing Gundogan a two-year deal that would doubtlessly lengthen to 3. Metropolis solely provided a one-year extension with an possibility for a second 12 months.

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In Barcelona, ​​he can have the very best wage within the crew. They hope he continues to carry out as he has for a very long time to return and in addition hope that his affect will assist form the crew’s two younger stars, Jaffe and Badri.

Final February, Pedri revealed how Xavi requested him to play close to the penalty space. “It’s one thing I need to enhance and really feel like I’m doing it these days,” he mentioned.

The 20-year-old completed final season with seven targets, his finest return with Barcelona up to now. When the crew returns for pre-season coaching, he’ll share the dressing room with among the finest gamers on this planet upon reaching the penalty space from midfield. Gundogan has scored greater than 10 targets over the previous three consecutive seasons. If you’re in search of a task mannequin for Pedri, we’re right here.

Bernardo Silva was Xavi’s favourite final summer season. There was lots of pleasure about Messi’s potential comeback this 12 months. However Gundogan is undoubtedly the best choice out there to Barcelona to spice up what they see as a key space.

(High picture: Alex Livesey – Danehouse/Getty Pictures)