Football News

“He has everything” – How Julian Alvarez became “almost undroppable” for Pep Guardiola’s Man City

By Harry Edwards

Published: 8:10, 21 September 2023

Pep Guardiola has hailed Julian Alvarez after his impressive start to the new season for Manchester City.

When Alvarez first signed from River Plate in January 2022, the Argentinian was immediately loaned back to the club until the summer, with the door open to a longer stay. At the time, some expected that to be the first of many loan moves for a young player given Man City’s star-studded squad.

However, come July 2022, Alvarez was out of the River Plate squad and on his way to Man City to join a new look attack. But again not many expected him to get much playing time or have a great impact, given Man City had signed Erling Haaland that same summer.

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In his first campaign, Alvarez played 49 matches across all competitions, amassing just over 2,500 minutes, scoring 17 goals and providing four assists as Man City won the Treble. Of course, Alvarez also added the World Cup to his already-loaded trophy cabinet to cap off what was an impressive season.

But there were still some doubts about Alvarez’s playing time going into the new campaign. After all, no one is going to really compete with Haaland for the starting striker role. However, Alvarez has replaced someone else.

With Man City losing Ilkay Gundogan over the summer, Guardiola started their first league game with Kevin De Bruyne in the deeper midfield role alongside Rodri, not wanting to rush new signing Mateo Kovacic in to the XI. But De Bruyne had to come off halfway through the first half, suffering another injury.

Many expected Phil Foden to be the man to fill De Bruyne’s creative shoes in Man City’s system, especially as he has been the favoured starter ahead of Jack Grealish on the wing. And in Man City’s win over Newcastle earlier this season, the Englishman created seven chances, providing the assist for Alvarez’s winner.

However, it is in fact Alvarez who appears to be the De Bruyne replacement. In Man City’s 4-2-3-1 system – which encourages Rodri to rampage further up the pitch – Alvarez provides the perfect balance between creativity, goal-threat and off-the-ball movement behind Haaland.

In Man City’s win over West Ham at the weekend, the Premier League champions had to come from behind against the Hammers, and Alvarez was at the heart of it. The 23-year-old set up Jeremy Doku for the equaliser and then provided another assist for Bernardo Silva to put Man City ahead. After failing to register an assist in 31 Premier League games last season, Alvarez has already recorded three in his first five matches this campaign.

Only Pedro Neto has created more chances (17) than Alvarez in the Premier League so far this season, the Argentinian is level with Bruno Fernandes and Pascal Groß on 16. In fact, the last Man City player to create more chances than Alvarez’s 16 in the first five league matches of a season was De Bruyne, who created 19 in 2019/20. Interestingly, Alvarez also leads the division for lay-offs – showing his willingness to link play with his back to goal before spinning in behind.

What made that more impressive, alongside his joint-high four chances created, was the fact that Alvarez had not long returned from international duty with Argentina in Bolivia, suffering from jet lag.

“He’s learning a lot how to move in the pockets, he’s a threat with goals and assists, the work ethic. We are delighted that the club brought him last year,” Guardiola told reporters after that win.

“Gundo left and unfortunately with the injury to Kevin he has his chance and he is using it. Now he is almost undroppable.”

In midweek, Alvarez was once again involved in a Man City comeback, this time scoring twice as they avoided an upset to beat Crvena zvezda 3-1 in the Champions League. But he also flexed his creative muscles, creating seven chances, with no player creating more across the first gameweek.

On top of his seven chances created, Alvarez also attempted eight shots, becoming only the third player since 2003/04 to reach both totals in a single Champions League game, joining Karim Benzema and Arjen Robben.

After the game, it was put to Guardiola about Alvarez becoming one of the first names on the teamsheet, and he was once again high in praise of the 23-year-old.

“He deserves it,” Guardiola said. “Every single game he is working, scoring goals, making assists, so when that happens, he deserves it.”

He added: “Really good – all the actions are really good and so quick. The assist from Erling was really good. He is so young. What a signing the club have done. He has everything – fighting and goals and assists. Incredible, lovely guy.

“Playing behind Erling he is an incredible threat. Really pleased for him, he deserves it.”

There is easy proof of Alvarez being undroppable too. Across the Premier League and Champions League, Alvarez has played 539 minutes for Man City this season, starting every game and only coming off against Fulham in injury time. Only Ederson (540) has played more minutes than Alvarez for Man City across both competitions, with Kyle Walker also hitting 539 so far. When Guardiola names his starting XI to face Nottingham Forest at the weekend, you can almost guarantee Alvarez will be there.

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