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Hybrid in the shadow of the stars



Hybrid in the shadow of the stars

According to consistent reports, Julian Álvarez is a candidate in FC Bayern Munich’s search for a striker. What characterizes the 23-year-old Argentine – and how did his first season at Manchester City go?

Julian Álvarez has had the privilege of learning up close and personal with the best striker in recent memory and arguably the best of the present this season. Lionel Messi for Argentina and Erling Haaland for Manchester City. It was “a privilege” to play with him, Álvarez enthused about Haaland, who was the same age. And Messi? “I’m lucky to share a football pitch with him.”

Incidentally, Álvarez, who is only 1.70 meters tall, has striking similarities in terms of his playing system with neither of the two: He is not a false nine like Messi and not a striker like Haaland. In fact, Álvarez is a flexible hybrid with his physical constitution and his skills as a trickster and goalscorer. Even as a center forward, he rarely lurks in the front line, but likes to let something fall.

It is currently still unclear in which position Álvarez will grow old – and recently also at which club. sports picture and sky report unanimously that the 23-year-old Argentinian made it onto the list of candidates when FC Bayern was looking for a striker. He joined the classic center forwards Harry Kane (Tottenham Hotspur), Victor Osimhen (SSC Napoli) and Randal Kolo Muani (Eintracht Frankfurt).

Julian Álvarez won the World Cup with Argentina

Álvarez has recently played for both Argentina national team and City where his famous rivals refused to play. On his way to winning the World Cup with Argentina, Álvarez first came off the bench and then as a left and right winger as needed, before taking on the role of center forward in the decisive games. He made his big showing in the semi-finals and was directly involved in all three goals in the 3-0 win over Croatia.

Álvarez’ EUR 21.4 million move from River Plate to City was fixed in January 2022, but he spent the past second half of the season in his native Argentina. For his youth club River, he scored 54 goals and 31 assists in 122 competitive games – mostly as a center forward.

“He will play in the center of the attack,” announced Guardiola in the course of the commitment. A little later, City, which was still without a centre-forward at the time, also brought in Haaland, who was also being courted by FC Bayern, which is why Álvarez was diplomatic when he presented himself in the summer. “I feel comfortable both in the center and on the wing,” he said, hinting a little hesitantly: “But I score more goals in the middle.”

For long stretches of the first half of the season, Álvarez acted as a classic substitute center forward for Tormaschine Haaland. He was regularly substituted on for the Norwegian and if Haaland was injured or the game wasn’t important enough, Álvarez was allowed to start. Occasionally, the two ran side by side.

Pep Guardiola invented a new position for Julian Álvarez

Because Álvarez was suddenly allowed to call himself world champion from winter and was mostly convincing in his appearances, the pressure on Guardiola increased in the course of the second half of the season to give Álvarez more playing time. The trainer quickly invented a new position for him. In recent weeks he has repeatedly used Álvarez as an attacking midfielder behind Haaland, sometimes even deeper.

“Pep Guardiola’s new invention of position: Julian Álvarez in eighth position”, headlined The Athletic. The article wonderfully describes how Guardiola simply turned around a maxim known from FC Bayern over the course of this season. Where he once obsessively tried to fill every position on the pitch with midfielders, he now orders defenders and forwards into midfield. For example, he pushed John Stones or Aymeric Laporte forward, Álvarez just backwards.

Álvarez fit well into his new role with his technical prowess and willingness to work off the ball. Thanks to Guardiola’s trick, Álvarez has recently been a regular starter, while the coach was able to rest Kevin de Bruyne for the really important duels in the Champions League. In the six knockout games against RB Leipzig, FC Bayern and Real Madrid, Álvarez only played 56 minutes in total.

In the impressive second leg against Real, he at least scored the final goal to make it 4-0 after coming on as a late substitute. Overall, Álvarez has scored 17 goals in 48 competitive games for City this season, one every 144 minutes. A strong value given his many appearances in midfield. In the Champions League final against Inter Milan on June 10, however, he should again only be a substitute.

Julian Álvarez : What’s next for him?

Only in March Álvarez extended his contract with City early until 2028. At the time, sporting director Txiki Begiristain praised him for his “technical ability, his dedication and attitude, his extraordinary movements and his natural instinct to score”. Àlvarez said: “I’m very happy with my first season here, but I can still improve. City offers me everything to fulfill my potential.”

Especially with regard to the unclear future of midfielder Ilkay Gündogan, Álvarez could become even more important in a deeper role in the future. A regular place as a center forward seems utopian for years to come. If Álvarez sees himself in this position in the long term and literally wants to step out of the shadow of Haaland, who is 25 centimeters taller, he would probably have to change clubs – although City would actually have no reason to give him up after the contract extension.

While FC Bayern has an urgent need for strikers, there could also be vacancies at FC Barcelona and Real Madrid in the foreseeable future. After all, Robert Lewandowski (34) and Karim Benzema (35) are already in the advanced football age.

Incidentally, the long-time Bayern striker Lewandowski played regularly in midfield during his early days at Borussia Dortmund, just like Álvarez now – at the front line there was initially no getting past Lucas Barrios. Benzema, meanwhile, often had to switch to the wings at Olympique Lyon. But what distinguishes the two from Álvarez: They are each 15 centimeters taller than him and therefore radiate more power in the center.