Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola has given the clearest indication yet that he is set to persevere in his search for a long-term successor to Fernandinho after confirming he prefers Ilkay Gundogan in an attacking midfield position.
The Germany international has impressed in a defensive role after Fernandinho was sidelined with an injury during the Carabao Cup final, but his manager is firmly of the belief that he is better suited to cover Kevin de Bruyne and David Silva.
It reportedly ensures City will continue their hunt to sign Shakhtar Donetsk midfielder Fred in the summer after failing to land the highly-rated Brazilian in the January window.
Despite excelling in a deep-lying role and being considered as the likeliest replacement for Fernandinho upon his arrival at City, Guardiola values the influence of the German further up the field but concedes Gundogan's game intelligence enables him to offer versatility within his setup.
Guardiola said, via Manchester Evening News: “He’s a clever guy, so intelligent. Normally his position [is further up], because he is a guy who has a scent of goal. You lose a little bit of his capacity playing there [deep], but in the last month, he was in top, top form.”
>Won't get a mention but Gundogan had been superb filling in for Fernandinho...— Rodney Marsh (@RodneyMarsh10) March 1, 2018
27-year-old Gundogan has excelled in a defensive position so much so that he set a new Premier League record for the most touches (181) and successful passes (164) in a single game during City's 1-0 win against Chelsea.
Whilst he is accustomed to lighting up the front of the field, Gundogan insisted he is prepared to fulfil any role his manager requires of him despite having had to change his game after sustaining a serious knee ligament injury during his first year at the club.
He said: “I see myself wherever my manager sees me. If I have to play this position, I want to fulfil it 100 percent in a perfect way. If I have to be more disciplined in a defensive way, I have to do it.
“I am a different player right now because of all the experiences I had and all the injuries I had. I couldn’t say I am the same as three or four years ago.
“I have to accept now what happened in the past, but I am very comfortable with the situation. I am enjoying the football we are playing - I am enjoying myself and every game helps me to be more and more in form.
“Hard work definitely pays off and that is what I did in the last few months," he added.