Julian Alvarez is Man City's most prolific player after Erling Haaland - Pep Guardiola must find a way to fit him in

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Julian Alvarez Manchester City 2022-23
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The Argentina striker makes the most of every opportunity he gets in a City shirt, but he is too good to be spending so long on the bench

With the obvious exception of Erling Haaland, no one has a better goals-per-minute ratio in the Manchester City squad than Julian Alvarez. In fact, Haaland is the only player to have made more than 10 starts in the league who has scored in a higher percentage of starts in all competitions than Alvarez.

But City’s second-most efficient goalscorer ranks 16th in terms of minutes played in the Premier League among City's squad, and has started just eight out of 32 top-flight matches. He has played fewer minutes in the league than Joao Cancelo, who has not played for City since mid-January after going out on loan to Bayern Munich.

In his first season in Europe, the Argentina striker has proved to be both a highly productive player and an ideal fit in Pep Guardiola’s system. Yet despite his impressive output and his remarkable work-rate, he keeps finding himself on the bench.

For a player of his quality who is in the prime of his career aged 23 - not to mention the fact he is a recent World Cup winner - he needs to play far more than he has this season.

And after his match-winning display against Fulham, the least he deserves is to start against West Ham on Wednesday.

  1. Decisive against Fulham

    Alvarez was given a rare opportunity in the starting line up against Fulham on Sunday and, just as in his last Premier League start against Liverpool last month, he made the most of it.

    Barely a minute had gone and he had won a penalty, his close control of the ball in the area drawing a foul from Tim Ream. And after Fulham had levelled and had managed to get a foothold in the game, he put City back in front with an outstanding goal from nowhere.

    As City broke quickly, Alvarez sprinted forward to give Riyad Mahrez a short passing option and he clearly wanted to shoot early. Joao Palhinha came flying out to block his path, so the Argentine just danced around him before picking his spot from 25 yards out and blasting into the top corner.

    It was the 11th time he has scored in a match he has started this season, a remarkable strike rate of 61% in all competitions.

  2. Not just the goals

    Not just the goals

    You don’t have to just score goals and win penalties to impress Guardiola, although it sure helps, and the coach was keen to point to Alvarez’s other attributes after the game.

    “It’s not just the goal and the penalty, but it is the intensity in the pressure,” Guardiola said. “It is keeping the ball, it is the vision because he is an incredible, exceptional player, not just scoring goals. He knows exactly where the other players are, the movements, everything he does.”

    Opta backed up Guardiola’s words. Alvarez had made 43 pressures in the game, more than any other player, in addition to 11 sprints and 32 runs off the ball.

  3. Toughest competition in the world
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    Toughest competition in the world

    At any other club in the Premier League, Alvarez would be a nailed-on starter. He just has the misfortune to share a position with Haaland, who on Sunday scored his 50th goal of the season, becoming the first player in English football to hit that tally since 1931.

    Haaland is Alvarez’s main obstacle to a starting berth, and on current form the Norwegian is not so much a hurdle he needs to climb, but a 50-ft wall.

    Alvarez's previous Premier League start came against Liverpool when Haaland was injured, while he also started the home fixture against Fulham, when Haaland came off the bench to score a last-gasp penalty, and against Leicester when the Norwegian was again missing due to a minor knock.

    The other player he competes with for a starting place is Kevin De Bruyne. In fact, Alvarez has benefitted more from the absence of De Bruyne than Haaland, starting five matches, such as Sunday's win over Fulham, when the Belgian midfielder has either been injured or rested.

    You have to feel for Alvarez, who has to compete with the most prolific striker the Premier League has known and one of its best ever playmakers.

  4. A deadly weapon
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    A deadly weapon

    After Alvarez fired City to victory at Fulham, Guardiola described the duo of the Argentine and Haaland as "a great weapon". But it is a weapon Guardiola has not used very often.

    After Alvarez’s sensational performances at the World Cup, scoring five goals in Argentina’s eventual triumph in Qatar, the coach was naturally asked if he had earned a spot to play with Haaland.

    “Yeah, it can happen. The ball arrives there and you have two strikers that are going to score goals,” Guardiola responded. "But to create these chances, you have to make the process and sometimes you need other types of players to create these chances."

    The results of their partnership, though, speak for themselves. In the nine matches Haaland and Alvarez have started together in all competitions, City have won seven, drawn one (0-0 at Borussia Dortmund) and lost one (1-0 to Tottenham). Haaland has scored 11 goals in those matches while Alvarez has scored eight. City have scored a total of 30 goals, walloping Nottingham Forest and Burnley 6-0 while thrashing FC Copenhagen 5-0 and winning 4-1 at Bournemouth.

    Perhaps Guardiola should make more use of this "weapon".

  5. Too good to keep being left out
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    Too good to keep being left out

    The rarest thing has been when De Bruyne, Haaland and Alvarez have all started together, which has only happened once. That was the 6-0 drubbing of Burnley, when Haaland netted a hat-trick, Alvarez got two goals and an assist, and De Bruyne provided two assists.

    It may have only been against Championship opposition, but Burnley have had a remarkable season under Vincent Kompany and clinched promotion back to the Premier League with seven games to spare, the quickest time ever.

    The trio have not started together since, but Alvarez's latest display may have tempted Guardiola into a rethink. He, too, might have come to the conclusion that Alvarez is too good to keep leaving out.

    "If you play almost all the games to be world champion with Argentina, where there are a thousand, million exceptional players and you are able to play there, it is because he has something unique," Guardiola said.

    "He helped me a lot to understand that maybe in the future I have to adjust something to make both he and Kevin play. In tight games, where we play against defences with five at the back, this will be so important."

  6. Time for Pep to innovate again

    Time for Pep to innovate again

    Guardiola is a natural innovator and master of coming up with new tactical schemes. Just look at how he has shaken City's defence up lately, using Nathan Ake and John Stones as inverted full-backs who push into midfield at the expense of Cancelo and Kyle Walker.

    Now he needs to look at his attack and find a way to accommodate the man he describes as "unique". Not only is Alvarez a matchwinner that he would be crazy not to utilise as much as possible, the forward is at the most exciting stage of his career and has to make the most of this opportunity to make his mark on the game.

    He could look for a team where he would start every week, but he has committed to City, signing a bumper new contract with the club in March. Guardiola now needs to reward the player for his commitment off the pitch and by playing him more on it.

    He is unlikely to find a more willing runner or a more prolific forward, with the exception of Haaland.