You don’t win the league based on how good your starting XI is. What normally separates the winners from the chasers and contenders is their strength in depth and options off the bench.
Being able to call on strong reserves at key moments in the season can make a huge amount of difference to your ambitions. In the past Liverpool and Spurs in particular have really suffered from a lack of depth at the business end of the season, leading to the demise of their challenge for the big prize.
However it now looks as though Liverpool have taken steps to address this glaring issue. They invested heavily in the summer, to strengthen a strong base and some softer areas of their squad. However, City and Chelsea also possess real strength in depth and can call on some top class names, who are not nailed on starters, at key points in their campaign. Some of the players left out by City would simply waltz into most other sides on their day.
In this mini feature, we take a look at some of the players who go unnoticed or unsung, but ultimately do a lot of good for their sides. They are a few players who we may be talking a lot more about in the coming weeks.
Manchester City’s blessing of riches in quality attacking players is well known. It is perhaps for this reason why the qualities of their German creative midfielder, Ilkay Gundogan, have gone largely unsung.
A series of injuries too have played their part in his reduction to something of a squad player. However, his talents and abilities to unlock a stubborn defensive side have not gone unnoticed by Pep Guardiola. His early season form suggests he will be pivotal figure for City in their defense of the title.
In a league where every other week, Manchester City come across a side camped in their own half, a player like Gundogan is crucial.
When you are up against two banks of deep sitting opposition players, you need a player to be able to unlock the space and free up your forwards.
City have had David Silva doing this for years, but recently, Gundogan has been playing this role with real quality and menace. There a few more intelligent players than him in the game. With the ball at his feet and runners ahead of him, he is a truly top class act.
Finding a way
Gundogan’s quality has been forged from years of working with the best. Under Klopp at Dortmund and now Guardiola, he is in his peak years which is bad news for City’s title rivals.
Such is this the quality in City’s ranks, he is seldom singled out for the praise he deserves. In City’s recent mauling of Cardiff he was everywhere on the pitch. His eye for a perfectly weighted pass and desire to keep moving and creating space are crucial for how City operate. With him in the side you can bank on them finding a way against more stubborn opposition.
His recent injury blows have meant his days of playing twice a week are likely numbered. However, with the depth in City’s ranks Guardiola can manage his game time quite well.
As an option for his squad he can be saved for the more important fixtures where he is needed most.
Gundogan is a class act and could be the difference for City at key moments this season. If injuries are kind we may well be speaking a lot more about the former Dortmund man in the coming weeks.