It has felt like an eternity since Manchester City had a striker so the imminent arrival of Argentinian forward Julian Alvarez has been a hot name amongst City fans since completing his move from Argentinian giants River Plate. Pep Guardiola recently made mention of the forward’s potential role in the team;
The Current Striker Problem Facing Manchester City
Football currently has a striker/#9 dilemma. This problem has emerged due to the evolution of tactics that keep demanding more from strikers in terms of team play.
Strikers used to be termed “target man” or in other words you “played towards them”, setting them up to score was the job of the team. This system however carried a negative burden on the team, if the striker was having an off day it didn’t matter how well everyone else played as they usually didn’t score. It was like shooting a blunt arrow. No matter how precise the archer was. How accurate he used the bow. It didn’t amount to anything if the bow bounced off its target causing no damage.
This problem was a common trend until the emergence of the false 9 who inverted the role. False 9s are not played towards but rather “played with”. The ability of a false 9 to temporarily turn into a viable midfielder or winger allows the system to rotate who could be the arrow if the main arrow wasn’t getting the job done.
This inversion slammed open a whole new side of tactical playbooks. Your striker was no longer limited to his actions in the box but had to be able to drop out and still be effective.
Pep Guardiola is one of the leading minds in utilizing false 9’s, breaking through all-time great Lionel Messi in the role and famously reaching a UCL final with no striker.
False 9’s with their ability to drop out of their fixed position greatly suit Pep’s love for fluid, interchangeable, and scripted build-up patterns.
It is this role Julian Alvarez was bought to fulfill. While ignoring the justified cries of pain from the section of the fanbase that desperately wants an Erling Haaland transfer it is Alvarez who suits the City system rather than the Norwegian goal machine.
Haaland is probably the purest target man prospect we’ve seen since the turn of the century but if he is not a system fit the transfer is a huge risk. The bargain bin signing of someone who seems a system fit is the safer route to go.
How Julian Alvarez Fits Manchester City
Marcelo Gallardo’s system is not all that different from Pep Guardiola’s. Both are huge believers in player rotations or fluidity of roles. Gallardo’s teams are also well known for their high pressing nature usually preferring to win the ball higher up the pitch. River Plate usually score from creating overloads in the box often sending 5+ charging into the box before a low cross to set up a chance and most importantly Gallardo preaches a team passing game based on short passes and movement where everyone has a role to play in what eventually may just be a goal.
This is a huge boost for City as it means Alvarez is already showing up with a core understanding of fluidity, team play dynamics, and movement in and out the box. These traits are essential to play under a Pep-coached team.
High praise from a manager with the highest of standards.
How Julian Alvarez doesn’t fit Manchester City;
The negatives with Alvarez are a concern with size and a lack of explosive athleticism. The Premier League is also going to be step up technically for the Argentinian as defenders at elite European clubs are usually as technically gifted as they are physically imposing(e.g. Sergio Ramos or Van Dijk).
The last concern is one that the fans have given, the inescapable comparisons to all-time great Sergio Aguero. It’s almost impossible to not link the two but it’s best for everyone if the 22-year-old forward is judged as an individual and not against one of the most prolific scorers in Premier League history.
In Julian Alvarez City are hoping for an upgrade on Gabriel Jesus. A striker who brings everything you would want from a technical sense but lacks as a goal threat. Alvarez a technical marvel in his own right could just be the cut-throat finisher City’s build-up patterns has desperately needed.