Julián Álvarez scored a brace against Burnley last Wednesday to guide his team towards a 3-1 victory in a Premier League match. Manchester City then beat Brentford 3-1 last Monday to reach 49 points from 22 matches, which is two less than Liverpool’s tally. However, Pep Guardiola’s team has a match in hand and the title race is going to be a mouth-watering one in all probability.
Still, the focal point, for once, was the talented 24-year-old Argentine, who started as the lone striker in the match against Burnley. He has often done that this season and was forced to do it again in Erling Haaland’s absence, The Norwegian, however, made a substitute appearance.
Álvarez is one of the few players who revel in a rare role
Álvarez is essentially an attacking midfielder, who can play as a striker also. He has played as the number 10 in City’s 4-2-3-1 this season when Kevin de Bruyne was still nursing an injury. However, as de Bruyne himself is a 10 that can and does play as an eight at times, Alvarez prefers to play off the main striker and hence, a 4-4-1-1 formation would be an ideal one to accommodate him.
This makes him a “trequartista” or sort of a second striker – the term having been borrowed from Italian football – the literal meaning of which is someone who usually operates three quarters up the pitch.
The iconic Francesco Totti of AS Roma made the above playing position famous during the earlier part of this century. Totti was a capable goal-scorer, but also fell back to the middle third often to originate moves from there.
Álvarez is not quite as mobile as Totti was, as Manchester City keeps possession with more ease and crowd the final third more often than AS Roma ever did. Alvarez is also not yet the physical specimen Totti was, but his accuracy in passing and neat finishing are to be lauded.
The neat finish he had from de Bruyne’s brilliant through pass was befitting of a striker, but Álvarez also enjoys releasing Haaland with those short but probing passes whenever the two are playing together. The Argentinian has 15 goals and eight assists in 32 matches this season, which is a very good return even for a regular starter in a treble-winning team.
Manchester City will think of different combinations while picking their starting XI for upcoming matches
With Jérémy Doku occupying the left winger and being in great form this season, Guardiola will have to choose between Bernardo Silva and Phil Foden while selecting his starting 11. As Foden plays on the right flank and Bernardo prefers to play on the left, the chances of the former’s starting are greater if both Álvarez and Haaland are to feature in the team.
Another option for Guardiola will be to play Bernardo alongside Rodri in the double pivot to accommodate the former in the team. However, John Stones has proven his mettle there and should be preferred to start alongside Rodri in the pivot in important matches at least.
Hence, Álvarez ’s form has given Guardiola a nice problem to have. He will be spoiled for choices as a result, and might think of different combinations while picking his starting 11. City will face Chelsea on 17th February in an important Premier League match.
They will also play against FC København in UEFA Champions League a few days prior to that. Squad rotation, therefore, will be the need of the hour and Álvarez will be pretty much in the thick of things for them.