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Julian Alvarez can play the number-10 role… but he should NOT be in Manchester City’s team right now!



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In the latest edition of his City Xtra column, Amos Murphy addresses the recent criticism of Julian Alvarez and asks whether he should drop out of Manchester City’s starting 11. 

There’s an imbalance at Manchester City right now. And no, it isn’t the reaction when City drop points compared to when they win – that’s a conversation for another time. 

But for anyone unlucky enough to have been put through City’s first-half performance against Chelsea at the weekend, they’d have likely noticed a glaringly obvious flaw with the Blues’ set-up and it largely focused around their midfield. 

In the absence of key first-team players, City fielded somewhat of a patched-up side for the Chelsea game. Manuel Akanji assumed the ‘John Stones hybrid role’ stepping in from defence into midfield, whereas in front of the ever-reliable Rodri, a combination of Phil Foden, Kevin De Bruyne and Julian Alvarez battled for central supremacy. 

It was clunky, disjointed and in truth, an irritating watch. City’s build-up play was uncharacteristically frenetic, with very little care – if at all any during parts of the first half – for patience in attack. 

One of those accused of being at fault is Julian Alvarez. Manchester City’s back-up striker turned advanced playmaker, who on the whole has enjoyed a pretty impressive campaign so far. 

Boasting 15 goals and 10 assists from 35 matches across all competitions this term, it would be remiss of anyone to suggest Alvarez isn’t up to Pep Guardiola’s lofty standards. Alvarez can play as a number-10 behind Erling Haaland for City. We’ve seen it already this season work to decent enough effect. 

But with the Argentine, the problem is less about his individual qualities and more about the players around him, in particular, the roles they – Julian Alvarez included – are being asked to do. 

Unlike earlier in the season when Alvarez was finding relative success playing underneath Haaland in the number-10 role, talisman De Bruyne has since returned from injury and is – shock horror – proving to be an indispensable member of the City side. 

De Bruyne is at his devastating best when he’s picking up the ball inside the final third, which is also the area Alvarez was finding success in earlier this season. It means Alvarez naturally drops deeper to vacate the space higher up the pitch for De Bruyne to operate in, something evidenced by City’s average position map during the Chelsea game.

One of the biggest problems for City was dictating the pace of their attacks, which comes as little surprise when Alvarez’s average position throughout the 64 minutes he played was almost level with Rodri in midfield. While Alvarez is many things, a tempo-setter he is not. 

So the question that remains is, why did Guardiola pick Alvarez to play that position?

One can only assume his work rate and off-ball contributions play into his thinking. As pointed out by journalist Dom Farrell on X, Julian Alvarez ranks first in the standings for possession won in the final third for City this season. 

But that isn’t in any way useful for City if Alvarez is spending more time in the middle third instead.

This isn’t an attack on Alvarez’s contributions for City. In fact, if the Blues go on to win anything substantial between now and the end of the campaign, it will in part be down to the 24-year-old’s form in that first chunk of the season. 

Being said, on the back of recent showings, and with fixtures growing in importance ahead of the run-in, it does feel like Alvarez’s time as an automatic starter has passed its sell-by-date.