Since his emergence as part of Jürgen Klopp's Borussia Dortmund side, Ilkay Gündogan has been regarded as a fine playmaker. But at 30, he's been reborn as a goalscorer for Manchester City, who play Gladbach on Wednesday.
Passing, vision, anticipation, composure, intelligence — for the bulk of his 12-year professional career, the textbook attributes of a deep-lying playmaker have defined Ilkay Gündogan. Aside from the odd penalty, like the one he scored in the 2013 Champions League final, and an occassional long-range strike, his name rarely appeared on the scoresheet.
But, at the point at which most players have settled on their position, Gündogan is enjoying a sudden and unexpected reinvention. The midfielder has become prolific, adding late runs in to the box, nerveless finishing and a hint of selfishness to his skillset after turning 30.
His nine Premier Leaue goals in 2021 make him the joint-leading scorer in the top European leagues this year, alongside Lionel Messi. He is just one shy of his total of 10 in 105 games and five years under Jürgen Klopp and then Thomas Tuchel at Dortmund.
Speaking at a prematch press conference ahead of Manchester City's trip to face Borussia Mönchengladbach in Budapest on Wednesday, the German had a simple explanation for the change.
"I play a different role, more offensive and try to get close to the opponent's box," he said. "That is more dangerous and leads to more goals. But because I score more goals, it doesn't mean I play better."
Perhaps not, but Gündogan's reputation in England has soared of late, with a recent injury to Kevin De Bruyne giving him even more license to get forward.
"It looks like Gündogan is going to be the man to take Manchester City to the title," ex-Liverpool defender Jamie Carragher told Sky Sports. "What a season he is having. I think he is going to be PFA player of the year. He has been a revelation, a joy to watch."
Gündogan was Pep Guardiola's first signing when he moved from Bayern Munich to City in 2016, but a long injury lay off (the second of his career) meant his initial impact was minimal.
From then until this season, he's been a team man, keeping City ticking over and allowing the wealth of talent ahead of him to prosper. Winning trophies and matches rather than plaudits and headlines. But the City coach always knew he had more to give if required.
"I said many times he could play as a striker, like a false nine, and people laughed," said Guardiola after City's recent 3-1 win over Spurs, in which Gündogan scored a double. "I understood why because he didn't do it here. But he has the sense to arrive at the goal.
"When Fernandinho was out two seasons ago he was a holding midfielder, where it was difficult to score goals. Now he plays close to the striker and he has an incredible sense to do movements to the box. Then there is the finishing. When a guy shoots the way he did for the second goal, [Spurs keeper Hugo] Lloris cannot stop it."
Though Gündogan has mainly caught the eye in the Premier League this season, he scored in the opening two matchdays of the Champions League too, as City cruised to top spot in Group C.
Their reward was a tie against a Gladbach side who have struggled to marry the demands of playing in Europe and domestically in a truncated season. The announcement that coach Marco Rose will leave for Borussia Dortmund at the end of the season was another blow to a side underachieving in eighth spot in the Bundesliga.
But, as they showed in qualifying from a group featuring Real Madrid and Serie A leaders Inter, Gladbach have the quality to pose questions of City, as Gündogan acknowledged.
"I've seen them a lot in the last few months and they have a great team, great spirit and on a good day can beat anyone, they did with Shakhtar Donetsk in the group stage [0-6 and 4-0]. They have a lot of quality, energy and drive."
For all his current side's qualities, Rose knows they're up against it. City have won an incredible 18 games in a row, not lost for 25 matches and De Bruyne has just returned to full fitness.
"When you're Borussia Mönchengladbach and you're playing a Champions League last-16 match against Manchester City, there's nothing to lose really," Rose said. "It's basically just a big thing for the club to be playing in the Champions League and we have always said that we want to prove ourselves and show what we can do."
In 2021, Gündogan has shown what he can do, and it's more than most people thought. With Kai Havertz struggling at Chelsea, and Leon Goretzka, Joshua Kimmich and Toni Kroos not prolific, Gündogan may just have one eye on the rearranged Euro 2020. Competition for places and injuries have meant he's played less than an hour of tournament football for Germany despite debuting a decade ago.
That surely won't remain the case for long. Gündogan has been a part of Joachim Löw's attempt at remodelling Germany but the national team coach may be forced to think about how best to use the new Gündogan. A little goalscoring nudge back in his homeland on Wednesday won't hurt his case.