14th November 2016. By Edward Stratmann.
Ilkay Gundogan headed into Manchester City's match with Middlesbrough last weekend in the midst of a scintillating purple patch of form that had seen him grab consecutive braces against West Bromwich Albion and Barcelona. But while he was happy with the week that was, he wasn't letting himself get too carried away with his achievements, saying: "If you look at just my goals record, you'd have to say this is the best spell of my career.

"But I think I can improve my performances over the next few weeks I'm still not playing at 100% because it does take time after being out of action for so long."

The German international knew that he and his teammates would still face a stiff test overcoming Middlesbrough, however, which he duly noted when speaking to Man City's official website. "Teams set up very defensively against us and try and focus on stopping us from scoring goals and we expect Middlesbrough to come here and be difficult to break down but we've proved we can almost always find a way to score and we'll try and repeat the way we played against West Brom and Barcelona and look for the three points," he explained.

And despite City staying true to his words by scoring, Pep Guardiola's men suffered a late equaliser to draw 1-1 with Aitor Karanka's disciplined, well organised outfit.

Although the multifaceted Gundogan didn't reach the heights of his exemplary outing vs. the Catalan giants in midweek, his shift against Boro was still of a very high order.

With City completely monopolising possession against the low block defence of Middlesbrough, space in dangerous central attacking areas was always going to be hard to come by. But with large thanks to Gundogan's dynamic movement and creativity, the Citizens were able to consistently find openings throughout the Boro backline.

From the outset, the predominant feature of his time afield was his innate ability to make well calculated, incisive runs into the box. The timing, positioning and angling of his runs always kept the opposition on their toes. He was especially dangerous when embarking on diagonal runs from the left half spaces into the centre, where he could often surge forward unnoticed with his runs often blindsiding his markers.

Not only did this see him present himself as an excellent option for his colleagues and put himself into fine goalscoring locations, it also created space for his teammates to utilise, for his runs would crucially manipulate and stretch Boro's compact defensive shape.

The role Gael Clichy played in providing Gundogan with the platform to push forward deserves special mention, for he would hold his position in behind and supply cover down the left in case of a turnover.

When the 26-year-old wasn't storming into the box, his spatial understanding and recognition powers saw him frequently find openings in which to receive possession, instigate slick combinations with the likes of Sergio Aguero and David Silva and generally make life uncomfortable for Middlesbrough. With Guardiola granting him such freedom in the attacking thrid from his "false 8" role, Gundogan's presence added some real imagination and energy to City's attacking excursions.

Moreover, the technically exquisite midfielder also put his underrated heading ability to great use, which made his forward runs all the more threatening, to add another dimension to his polished efforts.

Half way through each half, he performed smooth switches with Kevin De Bruyne over to the right central midfield slot, where he carried over his effectiveness promisingly too.

For Gundogan, who now appears to have completely overcome his early season injury struggles since joining in the summer for a reported £20million, he's justifiably delighted at how rapidly he's established himself as an indispensable member of Guardiola's plans.

I'm enjoying being part of the team and playing for this great club," he said. "I'll try and continue as I have done over the past few weeks and score more goals but scoring is just a bonus for me helping the team win and creating opportunities means just as much to me and is more important."

Under the intense pressure and expectations that are heaped upon City, not only by the media but also their meticulous managerial maestro, Gundogan's stern mindset has seen him thrive under the spotlight. "You can see that you have arrived at a worldwide club that wants big things and wants to develop great things in the next few years," he insisted.

"Accordingly, the pressure and responsibility on individual players is profound. It's something different to Dortmund. It is clear here that you are striving for the supreme. The expectation is extremely high because of the transfers and because of Pep, who is the personification of success."

Having a player like the former Borussia Dortmund star is unquestionably the type of complete, world class midfielder that Pep desired. Now he's up and running, there's every reason to suggest he'll be a key driving force behind City's intentions to win as many trophies as possible this campaign.

The one pivotal caveat with Gundogan to all this will, of course, be if he can remain fit.