Ilkay Gundogan is the most recent ‘irreplaceable’ that Manchester City must figure out how to, well, replace.
The German had a talent for tying the defense and offense together in his own unique style over the course of seven successful years at the Etihad, and in his final season, he led the team to a Triple Crown. Pep Guardiola did not want to lose him to Barcelona on a free transfer, but rather that the team had waited too long to provide him a better deal than he could get elsewhere.
It will take some getting accustomed to for this City team to play without Gundogan, and his absence might not be felt until the biggest matches at the end of the season. He was the unstoppable match-winner last season against Leeds, Everton, and United.
City, though, has made efforts to replace him since they have no other option. Phil Foden is playing more centrally, Mateo Kovacic and Matheus Nunes have both joined for over £80 million, while Bernardo Silva’s decision to remain and sign a new contract was a perk of the summer transfer window.
There are early signs of progress in the aim, too. Kovacic looks as comfortable slipping between the No.6 and No.8 roles and has started playing some incisive balls through the middle; there was the chip at Burnley that Foden nearly turned into a spectacular goal, then the pass for Erling Haaland for the first goal against Fulham was simple yet inch-perfect – as it needed to be.
Getting on the end of that Haaland cross/shot was Julian Alvarez, who has been played with varying success in the midfield roles behind the No.9. One thing that the Argentine definitely excels at is getting into space in the box, and he was in the sort of position that Gundogan might have ghosted into to convert.
While the squad waits for a vote on the captain for this season, Kyle Walker is one player who has stood up to lead the group off the field. Ruben Dias would have likely been the obvious voice at the beginning of the summer with Kevin De Bruyne out injured, but Walker was given the armband on the preseason tour and has taken the initiative to speak up.
Based on his experiences for clubs and his nation, the England defender has approached it in his own way. However, it has helped them to four victories at a time when they have had to do without one of their best players in De Bruyne and their manager on the touchline. He admitted to reporters that he was probably not as’straight down the line’ as Vincent Kompany, and his bullish challenge to the group to blow their Premier League competition away early this season is probably not something Gundogan would have said.
Gundogan made too many contributions to City to be forgotten, and it will still be difficult to replace him. The Blues have at least made a start.