Pep Guardiola ponders position change for Ilkay Gundogan to plug Sergio Aguero gap

Aguero will miss Thursday's trip to Premier League rivals Chelsea after undergoing knee surgery in Barcelona

epa08491611 Manchester City players (L-R) Raheem Sterling, Eric Garcia, and Ilkay Gundogan warm up ahead of the English Premier League soccer match between Manchester City and Arsenal FC in Manchester, Britain, 17 June 2020.  EPA/PETER POWELL / NMC / EPA POOL EDITORIAL USE ONLY. No use with unauthorized audio, video, data, fixture lists, club/league logos or 'live' services. Online in-match use limited to 120 images, no video emulation. No use in betting, games or single club/league/player publications.
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Pep Guardiola believes Ilkay Gundogan’s football brain can make him the unlikely solution to Manchester City’s striking shortage.

Sergio Aguero had surgery on his injured knee in Barcelona Wednesday and will miss Thursday's trip to Chelsea while City wait to discover if he will be fit to feature when the Champions League resumes in August.

It leaves Gabriel Jesus as the sole specialist senior centre-forward available to Guardiola, who admits he cannot expect the Brazilian to play every game for the rest of the season. While Raheem Sterling is an obvious alternative, Guardiola suggested a couple of other candidates to lead the line.

Bernardo Silva has occasionally played as a false nine – including, to great effect, in City’s Carabao Cup win at Old Trafford in January – but midfielder Gundogan has not.

Jesus has scored 18 times this season and Guardiola said: “We don’t have any doubts about Gabriel. He’s an exceptional guy and we’re delighted with him but no one player in this team can play 90 minutes every three days.

"We have Gabriel. Raheem can play in this position, even Gundogan and Bernardo can play in this position. We have different options. Not like a [proper] striker but we can use them.”

Gundogan has made 41 appearances this season, second only to Bernardo Silva, almost invariably as a No 6 or a No 8, though Guardiola has used him on the right in the past.

And he believes the German’s intelligence equips him to operate anywhere, explaining: “The players who understand the game, and they are so much smarter, they understand how to play football, they can play all the positions.

“There are incredible players who can only play one position and Ilkay can play in many, many positions. Not as a striker as a main target but a striker like he can drop and play and get to the box. He is an outstanding player because he is so intelligent and intelligent players can play as full-backs or wingers.”

Sterling scored his first goal of 2020 in last week’s win over Arsenal and Guardiola sees the winger as a potential striker.

“Sterling can play there without a doubt,” he added. “It’s an incredible position for him to play but in the same time Bernardo can play there. He played at Old Trafford in the Carabao Cup and had an incredible performance when we won 3-1 and helped us to qualify for the final. Bernardo is another player like Gundogan who can play in a lot of positions because he is so smart.”

City will again be without John Stones, though he is back in training, at Stamford Bridge and Guardiola will select his side with Sunday’s FA Cup quarter-final against Newcastle United in mind, even though it is sandwiched by glamour league games against Chelsea and Liverpool.

“We can’t deny that we have one eye on Newcastle,” he said. “Chelsea and Liverpool are prestigious and important games but Newcastle is our game.”

Chelsea excelled when they lost at the Etihad Stadium in November, becoming a rare team to have the majority of the ball against Guardiola’s City.

And the Catalan has been impressed with Frank Lampard, explaining: “He was an extraordinary footballer and will be an extraordinary manager. He did a really good season with the way he played from the beginning.”

Like Guardiola at Barcelona, Lampard has been parachuted into a top job after a solitary season of management at a lower level and the Catalan remembered what it was like.

“You arrive as a manager and have patience and no fears,” he said. “You take decisions without compromise and without problems. He has given opportunity to the young, talented players Chelsea have.”