The evolution of the role Ilkay Gundogan plays in Manchester City's midfield is one of the most fascinating yet oft-overlooked elements of Pep Guardiola's side.

From holding midfielder to box-to-box man, passing metronome to goal-scorer extraordinaire, the Germany international has done it all.

The changes in his game have often mirrored City. In 2017/18 and particularly the 2018/19 season, when Guardiola favoured a pacey attacking trio of Raheem Sterling, Leroy Sane and Sergio Aguero, Gundogan operated more as a number six, who kept things ticking over while feeding the hungry front three.

In those campaigns he scored six and four goals respectively, before scoring only two in 2019/20. When it became clear last season that City were going to have to play without a fixed striker due to injuries suffered by Sergio Aguero, his game changed.

Guardiola adopted a false nine system that gave license for Gundogan to drive forward into the gaps left by the absence of a centre-forward. In doing so he scored 13 Premier League goals last season, a tally higher than the previous three campaigns combined that made him City's top scorer.

Ilkay Gundogan scores for Manchester Ciy

In City's 2-1 defeat of West Ham on Sunday, Gundogan ended a run of five games without a goal in all competitions. His first-half strike that opened the scoring was typical of his exploits from last term, a run towards the centre of the penalty area putting him in the right place to guide home Riyad Mahrez' cross.

Against David Moyes' side he topped the charts in terms of shots (four, level with Gabriel Jesus), shots on target (three) and chances created (four), while also assisting Fernandinho for City's second goal.

Ilkay Gundogan celebrates scoring for Manchester Ciy vs West Ham

His third goal in nine appearances this season means he is on track to record his second-best tally in sky blue, but he is some way off matching last season's hot streak. Before Sunday's win he had averaged 2.9 shot-creating actions per 90 minutes, way down from 3.64 in 2020/21.

But City and Guardiola don't necessarily need him to reach his scoring heights again and it would probably be unrealistic to expect him to do so anyway.

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What is important though is that Gundogan keeps chipping in with goals here and there, especially given the absences of Kevin De Bruyne, Phil Foden and Jack Grealish.

Rumours linking Ferran Torres to Barcelona are the only thing keeping the long-term injury victim in the headlines as he nurses a broken metatarsal.

Over the next month, Guardiola's side will come up against a number of teams that will make life difficult for them by employing a low-block defence. If Gundogan can continue his scoring habit when the games come thick and fast, then City could be in a very positive position come the new year.