Perhaps the most irreplaceable member of Dortmund's squad, Ilkay Gündoğan had a brilliant season, after a somewhat disappointing 2014/2015 campaign. At the start of the season, one can be forgiven for thinking that Dortmund fans may never see the Gündoğan of 2013 form again. However, just like many players in the squad, Gündoğan flourished under Thomas Tuchel.
Healthy for the majority of the season, Gündoğan was at the heart of Dortmund's midfield, controlling games, making superb runs through defenses, and playing beautiful balls. It's a shame his season had to be cut two months short, due to injuries first to his foot, then a devastating one to his knee, which could keep him out for six months.
Simply put, Ilkay Gündoğan returned to his world class level, as his season started brilliantly against Gladbach right out of the gate. Acting as the link between defense and attack, his pairing with Julian Weigl has worked wonders, as two together are equally press resistant and position themselves intelligently without the ball. With either Shinji Kagawa or Gonzalo Castro playing a little further forward, Gündoğan has enjoyed the freedom given to him by Thomas Tuchel.
The team's first dropped points of the season came against Hoffenheim, when Gündoğan was out of the line-up. Now, correlation does not equal causation, but there's no denying that the team struggles to cope without the presence of Ilkay Gündoğan. With Gonzalo Castro's slow start to the season, it was clear Gündoğan was as irreplaceable as anyone in the squad.
His best performance of the season might've came against Gladbach, right after the Winterpause, in a 3-1 win. He dominated from the start, almost scoring a fantastic goal from outside the box early in the match. He provided Marco Reus an assist to open the scoring, was at the start of quick counterattack that produced the second goal, and even scored the third, his first league goal in nine months for Dortmund.
Despite a superb season, the major negatives here are the injuries he picked up. After the 0-0 draw against Bayern, Gündoğan bruised his foot, but was only expected to miss a few days. However, the injury kept nagging him and he didn't make another appearance until the Revierderby over a month later. He only appeared in four games after March 5th, three of which were off the bench. He likely made his final appearance in a Dortmund shirt in the 3-0 in over Hertha in the Pokal semifinals.
The only complaint one could have about Ilkay Gündoğan's performances is his lack of goals and assists. In 25 league appearances, he only tallied one goal and three assists, which may be a surprise to most fans, considering his elite level of play this season. It's not exactly his job to score and assist all the goals, but as a creative midfielder, one might expect those numbers to be higher. At this point though, we're just cherry-picking.
Photo by Lars Baron/Bongarts/Getty Images
With his transfer to Manchester City for 26 million Euros looking increasingly likely, Dortmund will be faced with the tall task of finding a player who can come anywhere close to replicating what Gündoğan did for Dortmund. Much of the team's play revolved around him, and it was evident that Dortmund were a much weaker team without him. His introduction to the side as a substitute often provided Dortmund with a breakthrough, especially at home against Hoffenheim. Just wait till 00:35 to see his immediate impact.
Gonzalo Castro and Moritz Leitner both have played well when called upon in his absence, but neither are talented enough to be the long term answer. There have been games where Gündoğan's absence hasn't been as noticeable as other games, such as an impressive 2-0 win against Mainz, and the debacle of Spurs. But if Dortmund had Gündoğan for the Pokalfinale, and the final two Bundesliga games, the season might've ended on a much higher note.
Overall, Ilkay Gündoğan was arguably Dortmund's second best player of the season, behind Henrikh Mkhitaryan, and much of Dortmund's success this season can be attributed to the beautiful play of those two.
Written by Mark Chadwick, formerly DortmundUSA, but changed username to actual name. On twitter at @DortmundUSA