Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola hailed "exceptional" Ilkay Gundogan as one of the best players in Europe and admitted to being surprised by his versatility.

The 29-year-old was given a rare breather in midweek for the EFL Cup win over Southampton but been a regular this season.

He has been used in a variety of positions during his three years at the Etihad Stadium and has recently been deployed in a holding role in midfield, where he also helped out in last term's treble-winning campaign.

"He's so intelligent as a player," Guardiola told reporters ahead of Saturday's home league meeting with Southampton.

"One of the qualities I appreciate the most for my players is being intelligent, understanding everything that happened in the game, during the game and solve it - offensively, defensively, as quick as possible."

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"He can play in many roles. When he plays close to the box, he's a guy who scores goals and has personality. I didn't expect after one year, two years he would be so consistent as a holding midfielder, defending that position. He's an exceptional player, honestly. He's one of Europe's best players, in fact."

Big-money signing Rodri is nursing a hamstring injury and Fernandinho has been asked to fill in at centre-back of late, leaving City light of options in midfield.

Gundogan has stepped up to fill the void and is on the Premier League Player of the Month shortlist for October, though Guardiola was not aware the ex-Borussia Dortmund man was so comfortable when lining up in a deeper position.

"Sometimes it happens when you don't have more alternatives," Guardiola said. "I used other players in that position in the past but not Gundogan because I didn't realise. Look how wrong I was!

"When I didn't have another alternative in that position, I put him in and said, 'Wow'. Look how aggressive he is without the ball, he knows exactly the movements during the game he has to do.

"Of course, he's not the typical holding midfielder, but we need not just someone who can defend. When Fernandinho was out last season, Gundogan played there and was incredible, outstanding in all aspects of the game."