We highlighted the Germany international's rediscovery of his form that put him on the cusp of world-class in his side's amazing run in the Champions League in the 2012/13 campaign two weeks ago. Now, more than a year removed from a mysterious back injury that kept him off the pitch for 14 months between August 2013 and October 2014, the 25-year-old is perhaps Thomas Tuchel's most important midfielder.
To start the campaign, he often played alongside 20-year-old Julian Weigl in a 4-2-3-1 alignment. With Shinji Kagawa moving deeper in recent weeks, Gundogan is now part of a formidable midfield threesome, in which he is indisputably the go-to guy in buildup.
The 25-year-old's much improved form hasn't registered on the scoresheet so far, as he's found the net just twice and directly assisted five goals. One of those goals and three of his assists came in the UEFA Europa League qualifiers against hapless opponents Wolfsberger AC and Odds BK. He's still on track to easily beat his numbers from last year, when he scored three times and assisted five goals.
Coming back from his lengthy injury on Matchday 8 of the Bundesliga in the middle of October in a game against FC Cologne, Gundogan ended up playing in 33 of Dortmund's 49 games across all competitions. Unless another injury halts his progress, he'll shatter that number in this campaign, having already appeared in 22 matches.
He was rested for one game, a 1-1 draw at PAOK Salonika in the Europa League. Dortmund's No. 8 has spent the second-most minutes on the pitch, trailing only captain Mats Hummels.
Comparing more advanced stats from last season to this campaign brings some rather curious results to light, as his palpable improvement on the pitch doesn't manifest itself in many categories. It's perhaps testament to the fact that Gundogan does many things well that go unnoticed by statisticians.
His number of key passes has slightly dropped—from 1.2 to 1.1 per game— and his passing accuracy has improved by only one percentage point—from 85.5 to 86.5 per cent. The quality of his passing, already very high last season, hasn't changed; what has changed is the sheer volume. Per Squawka, the number of successful passes has jumped from 58.65 to 70.15 per game in the Bundesliga.
There's an easy explanation for that significant jump: Dortmund are much more possession-oriented under Tuchel. Much like his side, Gundogan himself has become more dominant. He leads the league in total touches of the football, according to Inside11 (in German).
Another area where the 25-year-old's 2015/16 leaves the previous campaign in the dust is the number of dribbles, which has jumped from 1.7 to 2.8 per Bundesliga game. He's also become a more effective dribbler, successful on 74.47 per cent of his attempts, per Squawka, compared to 63.93 per cent last season. Gundogan's dribbling skills have become a real weapon for Dortmund, as Tom Payne noted for Spielverlagerung.com:
Often when picking up the ball in the right half-space he is confronted rather early by an opposing presser. His dribbling not only allows him to be resistant to such closing down but opens a window as a means to destroy the opposition defensive structure through beating his man individually.
Gundogan's superb vision not only helps his side going forward, he's also putting in good work in defence. His 2.4 interceptions per game have him tied for the team lead with Weigl, whose defensive prowess is more heralded. Compared to last term, when he averaged 1.7 interceptions, Gundogan's improved work when the opponent is on the ball makes him a more complete player.
All stats via WhoScored.com unless otherwise noted.