Press conference: Part 2: Pep on Gundogan
As the injuries have mounted up, so the German midfielder has grown in stature – much to the admiration of his manager.
“He is such an intelligent player,” said Pep.
“That’s one of the qualities I appreciate the most, intelligence - the players who understand everything that happens during the game and solve it as quick as possible.
“He can play in many roles. He can play close to the box as the guy who scores the goals. He has that personality. Especially in that position.
“As holding midfielder, I didn’t expect he would be so consistent in that role, defending that position, but he is.
“He is an exceptional player. He is one of Europe’s best, in fact.
Asked when he decided Ilkay could be utilised in the anchor midfield role, Pep said: “Last season. Sometimes it happens when you don’t have alternatives.
“Sometimes when Ferna couldn’t play, I used other players. I didn’t use him because I didn’t realise.
“Look how wrong I was! After, when I didn’t have an alternative in that position, I played him and said ‘wow’, how aggressive he is without the ball and knows the movements he has to do.
“He is not a typical midfielder, but we need quality on the ball, not just defending.
“We didn’t have any doubts about his talent with the ball. Last season, when Ferna was injured more than usual, he played there and was outstanding. In all aspects of the game.”
Watch the video above for a full update from the boss.