It just had to be Ilkay Gundogan.
With Manchester City’s quadruple hopes hanging in the balance at Goodison Park on Saturday evening, the Germany international steadied himself to calmly head into an empty net and pave the way for his side to progress to the semifinals of the FA Cup with a hard-fought 2-0 win over Everton.
Gundogan has arguably been City’s player of the season, so it came as no surprise to see him once again make the difference just 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 tracking Gundogan’s every move to try to stifle his impact.
But the 30-year-old is having his best season in front of goal and there would be no denying him his 16th goal of such an influential campaign.
In a tight clash, the chance he had been awaiting finally came in the 84th minute, after Aymeric Laporte’s shot had bounced back off the bar. There was never any doubt that Gundogan would be in the right place at the right time to finish off the rebound.
Substitute Kevin De Bruyne added a second in the 90th minute but this was a game that was in the balance for a long, long time. Indeed, it was a reminder of how fine the margins are as City looks to pull off a historic quadruple.
Ancelotti certainly didn’t make it easy for Guardiola’s side as he showed all of his experience to suffocate City for long spells.
Despite the visitors having 77 percent possession in the first half, Everton managed to protect third-choice keeper Joao Virginia from serious threat and his only save during the opening 45 minutes was a comfortable catch from Raheem Sterling’s 20-yard strike.
The Toffees rarely ventured forward, but when they did, they tried to use the physical strength of Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Richarlison to rough up City’s back line.
The hosts even came close to opening the scoring when Yerry Mina’s near-post flick was cleared off the line by Oleksandr Zinchenko.
City began to carry a greater threat as the game wore on, though, and Virginia, only playing because of injuries to Jordan Pickford and Robin Olsen, showed his raw quality when he made a fingertip save from Sterling just before the hour mark.
He even got the slightest of touches to Laporte’s late effort but ultimately couldn’t stop Gundogan from keeping City’s hopes of an unprecedented quadruple alive.
The runaway Premier League leaders face Tottenham in next month’s Carabao Cup final and Borussia Dortmund in the Champions League quarterfinals, while they have now sealed their place in the last four of the FA Cup.
With games ticking down, it is now quantifiable just how many victories they need to secure all four trophies.
Five in the Premier League will ensure a third title in four years, three would land a domestic cup double, while European ties will be settled over two legs before May’s 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 sides have ever been in quadruple contention at a later date.
Manchester United lasted five days longer in 2009 before it lost an FA Cup semifinal, while Chelsea made it to May 1, 2007, before being beaten in a Champions League semifinal.
Guardiola will continue to insist that a quadruple is impossible and will be reminding his players that they haven’t yet got a single trophy in the bag.
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 will just be hoping that his players can steer clear of injury during the international break.
If they can, though, the impossible dream could yet come true.