Fit-again Gundogan thriving as Toure's replacement at City

MANCHESTER, England (AP) " Things are turning out very differently for Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Ilkay Gundogan since the midfielders swapped Borussia Dortmund for teams in Manchester.

Mkhitaryan is faltering at United. Gundogan is flourishing at City.

More attention was focused on Mkhitaryan after he arrived at Old Trafford as the Bundesliga's reigning Player of the Year, on the back of a season in which he scored 23 goals and set up 32 others for Dortmund. He has started one game for United " and was substituted at halftime on that occasion " and manager Jose Mourinho has said the 27-year-old Armenian is struggling to adjust to the English game.

Gundogan arrived at Etihad Stadium in June on crutches as he recovered from a dislocated kneecap that forced him to miss the European Championship with Germany. Now fully fit, he has slotted seamlessly into City's midfield and scored four goals in his last two games " two against West Bromwich Albion in the Premier League on Saturday and another double in the 3-1 win over Barcelona in the Champions League on Tuesday.

City fans were wondering how the team could replace Yaya Toure, the midfield dynamo who was central to its rise as a force in the English game since 2010 but has now been ostracized by City manager Pep Guardiola.

They appear to have the ideal replacement in the 26-year-old Gundogan, who was slightly cheaper than Mkhitaryan at 21 million pounds (now $26 million).

Gundogan was superb against Barcelona, and not just because of his goals that began and completed City's recovery at the Etihad. He had a 97 percent pass-completion record, the best of any starting player " some feat given the standard of the opposition. His pressing game, especially in the second half when Barcelona swarmed all over, stood out. He always wanted the ball and tried to make things happen, even in the first half when City was trailing.

Gundogan " a pure center midfielder " doesn't have an obvious weakness in his game. Some are already comparing him to Chelsea great Frank Lampard because of the timing of his runs into the box, as shown for both his goals.

"I'm very happy to be back and to come closer to 100 percent (fitness)," Gundogan said Wednesday. "Especially in my position as a midfielder, it's not so much about scoring " that's also an important part " but the main part is being there on the one-on-ones, playing the right pass at the right moment. They are the things I'm focused on.

"There are a lot of things I can improve over the next games."

Guardiola can only hope he stays fit.

Gundogan was out for 14 months after sustaining a back injury early in the 2013-14 season, needing surgery on his spine. He would have been part of Germany's World Cup-winning squad.

"I was really scared," Gundogan, who was born to Turkish parents, has said, "and I didn't know if I would ever be able to play football again."

Then he dislocated his kneecap in a training session with Dortmund in May, which caused him to miss another major international tournament.

It didn't stop Guardiola from signing him.

Gundogan's five goals in his first nine starts for City equals the career-best tally for a season he set while at Nuremberg in the 2010-11 campaign, the year before he moved to Dortmund, and he is enjoying the freedom given to him by Guardiola in City's fluid midfield.

He can either play at the base of the midfield, as one of two in the middle, or as a support to the striker. Most importantly for Guardiola, Gundogan covers ground intelligently and tirelessly, and can offer the intense pressing game that the 33-year-old Toure cannot.

Mkhitaryan can only hope he eventually adjusts to life in Manchester like his former Dortmund teammate, with Mourinho acknowledging that the attacking midfielder has struggled to cope with the intensity and aggression of the English game.

"Micki needs time to become the top player he knows he can be," Mourinho said last week.

Mkhitaryan hasn't even been in United's 18-man matchday squad for recent games but traveled with the team to Turkey for Thursday's Europa League game against Fenerbahce.

This story has been automatically published from the Associated Press wire which uses US spellings

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