Erling Haaland has gone eerily quiet of late — by his standards at least. The Norwegian has just one goal in his last four, a frightening lack of attacking production for a striker who has almost reached the 60-goal mark this season.

And in his stead, City have turned to someone else. Their answer to their mystical striking force momentarily faltering is a silky central midfielder. llkay Gundogan has bagged four and two assists over that same period, including a brace to see off Everton in what was regarded as a potential point of failure as they aim to hold off Arsenal in the Premier League title race.

His first against the Toffees was a finish Haaland would be envious of, a deft touch on his right thigh, with a half pivot and quick flick into the bottom corner — all without looking at the goal.

This recent run has captured one element of Gundogan’s game: the sneakily impactful goalscorer. But there are other versions, too. There is Gundogan the creator, Gundogan the composed distributor, and Gundogan the dribbler.

Pep Guardiola has fashioned a near-perfect attacking midfielder out of an injury-prone player whose career was slowly fading due to a series of fitness issues. Still, his time at the Etihad Stadium appears to be coming to an end. The Germany international is yet to pen a new deal to stay at the club pas the end of this season, with Barcelona reportedly lurking.

But, although they might want him, Gundogan is not the player the Blaugrana should go after. At Man City, he’s a cult hero and perennial Premier League champion. For Barcelona, he is an imperfect fit, and the Blaugrana are better off filling other needs this summer.

A lack of cash to spend

In a perfect recruitment world, one in which Barcelona aren’t bound by La Liga financial regulations, they get this deal sorted as early as possible. There are many good things about Gundogan, and any team would want to have him, regardless of his exact role. And at nearly 33, he would perhaps also be willing to concede that he couldn’t be a regular for the Blaugrana — not with youngsters Gavi and Pedri buzzing around the midfield.

But the issue is, Barca are in massive financial trouble once again. Right now, there is no clear path to them officially registering the four players they have handed contract extensions to in the last 18 months. La Liga president Javier Tebas, not exactly known for his ability to coalesce with Barcelona, has made it clear that the Blaugrana need to shed nearly €200 million (£175.8m/$220m) before they can even think about signing players.

And they’ve gone about this in a litany of ways. Some players will be moved on, others have renegotiated contracts. The Blaugrana even got rid of their in-house TV station to slash €8m (£7.0m/$8.8m).

If they ever reach the figure they need to, that doesn’t exactly mean spending can be unbounded, either. After the new deals are sorted out, Barcelona will undoubtedly go after Lionel Messi, admittedly on more agreeable terms than his last mammoth deal at the club.

They will also need a right-back and defensive midfielder. There is perhaps also an argument for a new striker, and they are pursuing Brazilian teenager Vitor Roque. These are all expensive investments, at positions where Gundogan isn’t the answer.

Not a defensive midfielder

The midfielder, in fairness, has made a career off of his versatility. There are a number of reasons why he has worked so well for this City team, and his ability to do a bit of everything is one of them. But, ironically, and perhaps unfortunately for Barcelona, Gundogan’s weakest position within the midfield is the one where they need help the most.

Sergio Busquets announced his intention to depart the club last week, leaving Barca with a void to fill at the base of their midfield. Frenkie de Jong could arguably operate at the position, but they probably need a bigger, more imposing, defensive presence to shore up that position. And it’s not one that Gundogan is exactly an expert in.

Man City lost the 2021 Champions League final as much as Chelsea won it. Thomas Tuchel’s Blues were excellent on the day, with the German manager devising an excellent tactical plan to nullify City’s attack. But it was one tactical blunder in the tightest of games that doomed City on the day, as Guardiola deployed Gundogan as a lone No.6, operating at the base of a three-man midfield without Rodri beside him.

It proved to be a costly decision. In the 42nd minute in Porto, Mason Mount threaded a pass through a large patch of grass where Gundogan should have been stood. Kai Havertz dutifully strode in on goal, and buried the winner.

Gundogan’s credibility as a No.6 should not be ruined by one game. He has been trusted with that sort of role sparingly throughout his City career, and turned in some fine performances in wins. But this is not a player who is supposed to play there every week — which is exactly what Barcelona need. The fit, then, is markedly imperfect.

They already have a version of him

This is something of a shame, not least because Gundogan is an excellent footballer. But Barcelona, in a loose sense, already have him. The Blaugrana have been crying out for a playmaking midfielder for some time now, especially as Robert Lewandowski saw his goals dry up in the second half of this season. That was swiftly linked to the injuries of Pedri and Ousmane Dembele, Barcelona’s two best creative forces. It’s something of an imperfect conclusion; there was a while when Lewandowski was simply failing to put the ball into the net.

But there is certainly an element of truth to the fact that Barcelona need more creativity from the middle third, a player who can pick the final, crucial pass. But Gundogan isn’t necessarily that player. Like many in the City system, he is the one that serves the pass before the assist. He plays the diagonal balls to the full-backs or wide men, shifting play into the right areas. More accurately, he finds the spaces where City create overloads.

While he could potentially break down a low block or siphon a ball through an impossible cluster of bodies, it would be a misuse to ask him to do that alone. In this Barca side, in fact, he would function in a similar way to Pedri. And as good as Gundogan is, Barcelona’s Spanish starboy needs to be on the pitch.

Who else?

Barcelona’s transfer strategy is hard to predict, but if reports are to be believed, Messi is their priority. It is perhaps not the most wise of signings, but for the sake of football romanticism, it’s hard to see the Blaugrana not doing it. If they bring their club legend back, Xavi reportedly wants to play him in midfield, shoehorning Messi into an already-established four-man unit. There is, admittedly room for one more with Busquets gone, but the defensive shield that he brought will be missed.

It makes sense, then, that the Blaugrana are also pursuing a No.6. While Xavi has reportedly turned down the opportunity to sign Wolves’ Ruben Neves, the likes of Martin Zubimendi and Sofyan Amrabat have been mentioned as replacements.

There are priorities elsewhere, too. Jules Kounde, although excellent defensively, has been imperfect going forward at right-back. He’s always seemed something of an awkward tactical fit, as although his distribution is ever-improving, he doesn’t have the attacking instinct or final delivery of a marauding full-back that Barcelona hope to empliy. A host of names have cropped up as potential cover, or, indeed more permanent options there.

If money is tight — and it probably will be — Gundogan might be a luxury Barcelona cannot afford.

Will they do it anyway?

Still, there’s an inevitability to all of this. Barcelona President Joan Laporta has gone to war with La Liga over the last six months, promising a big summer to fans and players alike. And so far, things appear to have fallen his way. Barcelona have won the league, while the league have reportedly conceded ground on his “viability plan” to bring Messi back to Camp Nou.

But Laporta is not the kind of person who will simply stop there. He has a real attachment to the perceived grandeur of the club, and, as he showed last summer with a litany of signings, will have little problem spending big. And while Gundogan will be available on a free, this is still not a cheap signing. There will be fees and an expensive contract. But it will likely be sorted out, if only as proof that the Blaugrana can.

As a squad player, Gundogan would be an excellent addition. That he has played under Guardiola for seven years is also of interest. After all, Barcelona prescribe to the immaterial concept of club DNA like few other teams in the world. Unfortunately, that does not make every single player a disciple of the famed manager.

But Barcelona’s success should now be stretched into a long-term concept. They are a young team, with an exciting core. Expensive veterans at the wrong positions aren’t necessary — especially when the most expensive of them all appears to be on the way.

The Blaugrana won’t regret Gundogan immediately, provided that Xavi uses him correctly in the short term. But his imperfect fit could be a long-term issue, especially for a club consistently marred by poor finances.

By Lylla

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