Man City’s late formation experiment could hint at their Julian Alvarez plan

by duceditor

Man City’s late formation experiment could hint at their Julian Alvarez plan

Guardiola’s hint at Alvarez plan

Julian Alvarez was a surprise inclusion in the Manchester City matchday squad vs Everton, especially after Pep Guardiola had said the striker wouldn’t be back in Manchester until after the game. But he was back in training on Friday, and on the bench on Saturday, getting a hero’s entrance onto the pitch pre-match as he showed the Etihad crowd his World Cup winner’s medal. Whenever he went to warm up, the North Stand rose to applaud their champion, and the whole stadium roared as he was introduced late on to try and find a winner.

As City switched to a back three, Alvarez lined up alongside Erling Haaland in the 15 minutes or so he was on, including injury time. Alvarez has played behind Haaland whenever they have previously played together, but this was a more decisive front two, with Alvarez floating around his taller teammate and two wingers looking to put balls in the box and three midfielders offering support. The need to find a winner will have influenced his move a little further forward, but after Alvarez did so much to create space for Lionel Messi at the World Cup, could this be a hint at how Guardiola plans to use his world champion from now on? And could one less man in defence be a formation that facilitates playing Alvarez alongside Haaland more often?

City’s momentum halted by unlikely source

At 1-0 up, City came out of the blocks at half-time looking for a second to take full control against Everton. They were more attacking than they were in the first half, and looked to be trying to pin Everton back so they couldn’t think about an equaliser. And then the assistant referee’s communication equipment broke, requiring a quick fix on the far side. Except whatever the problem was, it wasn’t a speedy solution.

So City and Everton players resorted to jumping up and down on the spot to keep warm in the New Year’s Eve rain, with some City defenders even getting a ball to pass around as fans on both sides showed their displeasure at the ten-minute delay. And when play resumed, Everton had used the time to re-set, take a breather and go again, while City had lost all momentum. Demarai Gray’s stunner drew Everton level and completely changed the complexion of a contest that City may feel was in their hands until a technical error halted them in their tracks.

Guardiola sticks to his word

Pep Guardiola gave Rico Lewis a third start in a row, presumably for the same reason he got his second – that he did nothing wrong to lose his place, and it would be ‘unfair’ to replace him. Lewis again looked right at home between midfield and right-back, with his senior teammates trusting him time after time under pressure.

Lewis is arguably a perfect mix of both Kyle Walker and Joao Cancelo, mixing Walker’s pace to get up and down the flanks with Cancelo’s positional awareness to add an extra body in midfield. If Lewis has risen from the under-18s, through the under-23s and now looks settled with the first team in 2022, then 2023 could be a big one for the 18-year-old. And if Guardiola won’t drop him until he plays badly, then he could be a first-team fixture for a while yet.

Cancelo’s double challenge for 2023

After Lewis’ performance at Leeds, it wasn’t much of a surprise that he retained his place against Everton, even if it’s still remarkable he’s kept both Kyle Walker and Joao Cancelo on the bench for three successive games. What was surprising, though, was a third consecutive game at left-back for Nathan Ake, who also hasn’t done anything to warrant being replaced.

So for Cancelo, he has gone from a versatile option on both flanks, to being kept out of the side by an 18-year-old rookie and a centre-back playing out of position. Cancelo has started just once since his red card against Fulham six games ago, and has lost his place at international level, too. When City needed a second half goal, they switched to a back three and Cancelo remained on the bench. He faces a challenge in 2023 to fend off challenges for his place at both right-back and left-back.

Foden out in the cold

Another player struggling for starts before and after the World Cup is Phil Foden, who has now lined up in just one of City’s last six in all competitions. Guardiola praised Jack Grealish and Riyad Mahrez for what they offer tactically, and now the pair are providing goals and assists, it’s clear that the in-form players will keep their places if they continue to perform.

So where does that leave Foden, who did so well in Qatar to break into the England side and now finds himself having to do the same back at City. Julian Alvarez is back, too, increasing the competition in attack, and City have run out of ‘favourable’ fixtures before their busy January. If Foden wants to return to the first XI, he’ll have to do it the hard way.

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