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Manchester City: That’s why Pep Guardiola must field Erling Haaland AND Julián Álvarez



Manchester City: That's why Pep Guardiola must field Erling Haaland AND Julián Álvarez

Julián Álvarez shines in every appearance he gets at Manchester City. The Argentinian striker is too good to sit on the bench for so many games.

With the exception of Erling Haaland, no one in the Manchester City squad has a better goals-per-minute rate than Julián Álvarez – and no one is better than them in the Premier League as a whole.

However, the Skyblues’ second-best goalscorer ranks only 16th in the Manchester City squad in terms of PL minutes played, having only started ten of 34 league games. The Argentine has got fewer minutes in the league than João Cancelo, who has not played for City since mid-January after being loaned out to Bayern Munich.

In his first season in Europe, the Argentinian striker has proven to be a tremendously efficient player and an ideal fit for Pep Guardiola’s system. But despite his impressive performances and his enormous pace, he has to take a seat on the bench again and again.

For a player of his quality, in the prime of his career at 23 – not to mention the fact that he recently won the World Cup – he needs to play a lot more than he’s had so far this season.

After his winning goal against Fulham, he was last in the starting eleven against West Ham and Leeds – in each case as a central attacking midfielder alongside Kevin de Bruyne. SPOX explains why Guardiola should continue to do it this way – even in the Champions League semi-final against Real Madrid.

Julián Álvarez: Crucial against Fulham

Álvarez finally got a starting XI against Fulham in late April. As with his last Premier League appearance in the starting eleven against Liverpool in early April, he showed everything he could do.

Barely a minute was played when he converted a penalty after being fouled by Fulham’s Tim Ream in the penalty area. But the Londoners equalized – until the Argentine brought his city back into the lead.

As the Skyblues countered, Alvarez sprinted forward to give Riyad Mahrez a short passing opportunity. The Algerian probably wanted to shoot directly, but passed it to Álvarez. Fulham’s Joao Palhinha then flew out to block a possible shot. But the Argentine simply rounded him, took a shot from 25 meters and hit the top corner perfectly.

He scores in 61 percent of the games in which the 23-year-old starts – and he has now netted 15 times in total.

Julián Álvarez and his strengths: not just goals

Impressing coach Pep Guardiola is not just about scoring goals. The Spaniard pointed to Álvarez’s other qualities after the Fulham game.

“It’s not just about the goal and the penalty, it’s about the intensity, about the pressure he puts on,” said Guardiola. “How he holds the ball, his vision. He’s an incredible, exceptional player who doesn’t just score goals. He knows exactly where the other players are.”

The data service provider Opta confirmed Guardiola’s words. Álvarez pressed 43 times that game against Fulham – more than any other player. There were also eleven sprints and 32 sprints without the ball.

Erling Haaland: The toughest competition in the world for Álvarez

At probably every other club in the Premier League, Álvarez would be an absolute regular. He’s just unlucky to share the position with Haaland. The Norwegian has already broken the 50-goal mark this season and was crowned the top-scoring player in Premier League history in his debut season.

Haaland is Álvarez’s main obstacle on the way to the starting XI. And in his current form, the Norwegian isn’t so much a hurdle as a 50-meter wall.

Until then, Álvarez had mostly been in the starting XI in the Premier League when Haaland was injured.

The other player he is competing with for a place in the starting XI is Kevin De Bruyne. If the Argentinian has been used, then especially if the Belgian was absent. That was the case recently against West Ham (3-0) – in the 2-1 win over Leeds both were even in the starting XI. But Bernardo Silva and Jack Grealish sat on the bench.

Pity Álvarez: his rivals are the best striker in Premier League history and one of the greatest player-makers of all time.

Julian Álvarez at Manchester City: Too good for the bench

De Bruyne, Haaland and Álvarez have only started together twice – in a 6-0 win over Burnley in the FA Cup in mid-March (Hat-trick Haaland, Álvarez brace and two assists by de Bruyne) and most recently in a 2-1 win against Leeds when Ilkay Gündogan played both goals scored.

Even if the 6-0 was only against a team from the second division, Burnley has had a terrific season under Vincent Kompany and managed promotion to the Premier League with seven games remaining – faster than ever.

“If you play almost all the matches for the world title with Argentina, where there are thousands, millions of exceptional players, and you’re able to play there, it’s because he has something unique,” said Guardiola.

“He helped me a lot to understand that in the future I might have to adjust something so that both he and Kevin can play. In tight games where we play against teams with five players behind, that will be very important.”

Time for Pep Guardiola to do something special

Innovative by nature, Guardiola is a master at imagining new tactical concepts.

The best example is the reorganization of his defence: he has deployed Nathan Aké and John Stones at full-backs who move into central midfield when in possession, at the expense of Cancelo and Kyle Walker.

Now he must deal with his offense and find a way to house the man he describes as “unique”. Álvarez is a match winner to use as much as possible given he is at the most exciting stage of his career.

In theory, he could find himself a new club where he starts every week, but he’s committed to City. In March he signed a new contract that has it all. Guardiola must now reward Álvarez for extra time by letting him play more.

He certainly won’t find a striker who is more willing to run or more productive – with the exception of Haaland, of course.