Ilkay Gündogan – A Champions League Final Analysis

While Mario Götze and Robert Lewandowski were the most vital pieces in Dortmund’s Champions League final run, they most likely played their final matches in a Dortmund shirt. Luckily for Borussia Dortmund, they have another rising star who if they manage to keep hold of this summer: Ilkay Gündogan, who is not only the metronome of the midfield, but also the driving force in attack and often his side’s best defensive option in midfield. Gündogan didn’t have his most effective game of the season against Bayern, but he was his side’s most impressive outfield player alongside Marco Reus.

Gündogan was placed alongside Sven Bender in the holding midfield role, and together they formed the spine of the midfield for Borussia Dortmund, coming up against Javi Martinez and Bastian Schweinsteiger in direct match-ups. Both Dortmund and Bayern opted to field auxiliary-hybrid third midfielders in Thomas Müller and Marco Reus, although Müller played more centrally than Reus did, and that often created a 3 v 2 situation in the midfield to Bayern’s advantage. Not coincidentally, both of Bayern’s goals came from passes or runs from the center of the pitch, and when Gündogan and Bender were out of position, or didn’t close the space between themselves and the defense, Dortmund were exposed at the back by Robben and Ribery cutting inside and exploiting the space in the defense.



Positionally, Gündogan began the match higher up the pitch, partially because Dortmund came charging out of the gate, pressing high as a whole unit, and taking the game to Bayern. In fact, Dortmund had 5 attempts on goal before Bayern got their first chance. Gündogan didn’t spend much time in advanced positions however, as he was weary the threat that Schweinsteiger and Müller were providing, both taking up positions in between the lines. This meant sometimes Gündogan had to step forward to press the ball, and sometimes he had to fall back behind and sweep up play, something that he did on set pieces as well, where he was the release valve for the Dortmund side, if they needed to retain possession, he was at the base of the offensive half ready to spray the passes laterally and restart the attacks.


As the game wore on though, Bayern eventually settled into the match, and Dortmund’s aggressive start was replaced by a defensive counterattacking mentality, much the same as they had adopted in their recent encounters with Bayern. These counterattacks began with venom, often started by Gündogan and would yield 4 v 5 opportunities for Dortmund on the break, with the front 4 of Dortmund moving and weaving about, although they (and Gündogan’s final third passing in particular) lacked end product.


Dortmund were strong in midfield, especially during the first half, and much of that was due to the German international’s influence. Gündogan looked to receive the chaotic 50/50 balls that were contested by both sides and did so effectively, serving as a calming influence for the pressure Bayern looked to put on Dortmund – Gündogan was successful with every horizontal pass he attempted, which allowed Borussia Dortmund to be able to escape the initial pressure and look to build their counterattacks.


When in possession, Gündogan kept his head on a swivel, as most great midfielders do, in particular Xavi, who’s movement Gündogan seemed to have learned from: both with and without possession. WIth possession, Gündogan was constantly looking to turn and swivel, always looking to create enough space so that he could get off his forward passing, for which he was most effective coming down the right flank.


Gündogan was most effective down the right flank in both halves, which makes sense as he typically played to the right of Bender, however by the second half, Bayern had forced him deeper and deeper. This was exemplified by Gündogan only receiving two passes in the Bayern half in the second half, as opposed to 7 in the first half. His positioning, however, didn’t deter his defensive effort, as Gündogan still recorded the most tackles on Borussia Dortmund with 5, and chipped in with 2 additional interceptions making him his side’s best recoverer of the ball.


Bayern were beginning to dominate the game with more urgency in their passing and as a result, Dortmund needed to respond with urgency of their own: this often came in the form of Gündogan stepping up and pressing higher and higher in quick spurts. One notable example came as the ball was played all the way back to Neuer’s feet, at which point Gündogan charged forward, attempting to put pressure on Neuer to just blast the ball forward – which he did with great effect. The problem lied in the fact that Bayern were able to control this clearance and push forward to the wings with Franck Ribery. The Frenchman is so dangerous around the box, and after his cut inside, he needed to be contained by multiple players. With Gündogan still sprinting back from his foray in the Bayern box, Subotic stepped forward with the sliding Sven Bender, who had to leave Robben to cover Ribery, thus leaving the Dutchman open to assist the first goal of the match. Had Gündogan been in position, Robben most likely would have been marked, or at the very least, Subotic may have been able to hold his position and not been forced into stepping forward to assist Piszczek.


Gündogan would make up for this however, by taking the penalty that Marco Reus drew at the other end – scoring his first goal of the Champions League campaign. Gündogan is not normally a penalty taker, but the situation needed someone to step up, and the German midfielder did so admirably for his club.

Gündogan’s passing was most effective when it came from left to right, away from the center of the pitch. His attempts from right to left were typically long-balls across the center of the Bayern-dominated center of the pitch and they were not nearly as successful.


When Gündogan stuck to the right flank, he linked up well with Piszczek and Blaszczykowski, forming triangles and pressuring Ribery and keeping Alaba relatively in check. Gundogan’s two successful take-ons were down this right flank, with his two unsuccessful attempts coming in the center-left of the pitch, where it was much more congested and in the zone Javi Martinez and Bastian Schweinstieger controlled.

Gundogantakeons right side

While not his most-impressive performance, this match showed the pure versatility of Gündogan, and why he will be one of Dortmund’s key players next season should they be fortunate enough to hold onto him.


Stats courtesy of the FourFourTwo Stats Zone app

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About Pete Acquaviva

Pete writes about Milan on this blog. Occasionally other things. You would know which of them it is if you've gotten this far.

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