It just had to be Ilkay Gundogan.
With Manchester City’s quadruple prospects on the line at Goodison Park on Saturday night, the Germany international stabilized to head calmly into an empty net and pave the way for his side to advance to the FA Cup semi-finals. with a hard-fought 2-0 victory over Everton.
Gundogan has arguably been City’s player of the season, so it’s no surprise to see him once again making a difference when Pep Guardiola needed him most.
Everton boss Carlo Ancelotti had done his best to keep the midfielder quiet, with twin destroyers Andre Gomes and Allan monitoring Gundogan’s every move to try to quell his impact.
But the 30-year-old is having his best season in front of goal and cannot be denied his 16th goal of such an influential campaign.
In a close clash, the luck he expected finally came in the 84th minute, after Aymeric Laporte’s shot bounced off the bar. There was no doubt that Gundogan would be in the right place at the right time to complete the rebound.
Substitute Kevin De Bruyne added a second in the 90th minute, but it was a game that had been in play for a long, long time. Indeed, it was a reminder of how fine the margins are as City seeks to achieve a historic quadruple.
Ancelotti certainly didn’t make it easy for Guardiola’s side as he showed all of his experience to stifle City for long spells.
Despite the visitors having 77% possession in the first half, Everton managed to protect third-choice goalkeeper Joao Virginia from a serious threat and his only save in the first 45 minutes was a comfortable catch of the strike from 20 yards from Raheem Sterling.
The Toffees rarely ventured forward, but when they did, they tried to use the physical strength of Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Richarlison to attack City’s back line.
The hosts even came close to opening the scoring when Yerry Mina’s near-post film was cleared from the line by Oleksandr Zinchenko.
City began to carry a greater threat as the game progressed, however, and Virginia, who only played due to injuries to Jordan Pickford and Robin Olsen, showed his raw quality when he made a save from the Sterling’s fingertips just before the hour.
He even had the slightest touch on Laporte’s late effort, but ultimately couldn’t stop Gundogan from sustaining City’s hopes of an unprecedented quadruple.
The runaway Premier League leaders will face Tottenham in the Carabao Cup final next month and Borussia Dortmund in the Champions League quarter-finals, as they have now sealed their place in the last four of the FA Cup .
With the matches ending, it’s now quantifiable how many wins they need to win all four trophies.
Five in the Premier League will secure a third title in four years, three will win a double in the national cup, while European matches will be settled in two sets before the May final in Istanbul.
While a quadruple still seems highly unlikely, City will remain in contention for all four trophies until at least the second leg against Dortmund on April 14. Only two teams have ever been a quadruple rival at a later date.
Manchester United lasted five more days in 2009 before losing an FA Cup semi-final, while Chelsea reached on May 1, 2007, before being beaten in the Champions League semi-final.
Guardiola will continue to insist that a quadruple is impossible and will remind his players that they don’t have a single trophy in the bag yet.
With a full squad to choose from at Goodison Park and an incredible bench including De Bruyne, Riyad Mahrez, Joao Cancelo and Sergio Aguero, he just hopes his players can avoid injury during the international break.
If they can, however, the impossible dream might still come true.