Julian Álvarez arrived at Manchester City before a certain Norwegian striker. Yet, all the Citizens, and the rest of the Premier League, gave the acclaim to Erling Haaland. This is by no means a slight on Álvarez. Rather, Haaland provides major news worldwide.
Manchester City spent a fee around $17 million to River Plate in January 2022. The Sky Blues loaned the striker back to the Argentine side until July of this year.
With Álvarez up top, River Plate seemed unstoppable in the Argentine Primera División and in CONMEBOL competitions. This past season, he played 17 domestic games. He scored 11 and assisted on four more. In one game in the Copa Libertadores, Álvarez scored six times against Peruvian side Alianza Lima.
Pep’s perfect poacher
Álvarez looked the ideal fit for a Pep Guardiola side with his movement, link up play, and finishing ability. At River, he played as a center-forward, a wide player and even filled in behind to dictate the attacking movements for the club.
Álvarez drew comparisons to Guardiola’s acquisition of Ferran Torres. Prior to Torres moving back to Spain with Barcelona, he moved into pockets of space and served as a creative outlet in build-up play. Plus, of course, Torres brought a goal threat, as does Álvarez.
With experience in the Argentinian national team, Álvarez already showed he is more than a future prospect signing for the Premier League side. He is a player of high quality and intelligence on the field. He began to catch more attention in 2021. Then, he scored 18 times in 21 games for River Plate in the Argentine Primera División. Previously showing his ability on the ball, he added that lethal goal threat to complete his full package.
A move to one of Europe’s top five leagues was inevitable. Arriving at one of the biggest clubs in the world showed his confidence to compete with the best.
Filling the void at City
With Sergio Aguero’s departure in January, Gabriel Jesus was the sole center-forward. Yet, he failed to hold down a starting place in the second half of the 2021/22 campaign. Since then, Jesus departed for EPL rivals Arsenal.
Now, Álvarez competes with Erling Haaland as the two recognized names up top at the Etihad.
Guardiola’s tactics showed last season that even without a recognized striker, Manchester City can still create and dominate teams. After all, City won its fourth Premier League in the past five seasons in 2021/22.
Entering the new campaign, Álvarez scored on his debut in the Community Shield against Liverpool. In Premier League play, he opened his Premier League account with a brace against Nottingham Forest, his first start under Pep Guardiola in a competitive fixture. Yet, most of Álvarez’s minutes in this infantile campaign came off the bench.
Despite Erling Haaland being the key to Manchester City’s attack, Julian Álvarez can still play a pivotal role in the side’s lofty ambitions.
Julian Álvarez’s role at Manchester City
In each of these appearances he has mostly played in the attacking midfield positions, often in wide areas. Guardiola has been keen to introduce him alongside Haaland rather than instead of.
This flexibility should allow Álvarez to continue to make an impact on their first team throughout the season. The way Manchester City play can take time to learn and often a bedding in period is necessary. Players like Jack Grealish, who arrived on a huge transfer figure, did not light up the league last season like he did while at Aston Villa. Guardiola has clear instructions for each player and how they fit into his strict system. This can force players to change and adapt how they play, and with so much information to take on, it can be hard to affect the game instantly.
Álvarez is showing that he is quickly learning his, and his teammates’, roles well. Manchester City showed last season its ability to play without a focal point. The side brought players from across the pitch into shooting opportunities rather than relying on one man up top.
Rodri Hernández often holds the more disciplined defensive role. Meanwhile, all other midfielders and wide players get roles to create goal-scoring opportunities. With his pace and ability to receive in tight areas, Álvarez suits these roles around the center-forward brilliantly.
Be it in the middle or out wide there will be opportunities for Álvarez to make his mark on the Premier League. While Lionel Messi leads the line for Argentina, Álvarez will know that a good start to the season will also push him higher up the pecking order across the front line when the World Cup in Qatar comes around.
Haaland is the big signing of the summer which has stolen all headlines, there’s no hiding from that. Julian Álvarez has arrived at City and is featuring similarly to Riyad Mahrez in position as well as minutes on the field. He could quite easily shine alongside Haaland rather than becoming lost in his shadow, it appears the opportunity is there for the taking.
PHOTO: IMAGO / Colorsport
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