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City Xtra

Premier League, Beware: What To Expect From Manchester City's New-Look Forward Line This Season

Hamish MacRae

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Premier League, Beware: What To Expect From Manchester City's New-Look Forward Line This Season

It has been all change at Manchester City so far this year.

In the wake of a second consecutive Premier League title win, it was deemed time by those within the club for a squad shake-up, which has seen departures for long-serving stars Oleksandr Zinchenko, Fernandinho, Raheem Sterling and Gabriel Jesus.

Manchester City’s attack in particular will have a very different look when the new season arrives this weekend, as the outgoing forwards have been duly replaced with two of the most promising young strikers in the world: Julián Álvarez and Erling Haaland.

It is set to be an exciting season for Manchester City fans, so let’s have a look ahead to what to expect from this new era at the Etihad Stadium.

As has been heavily discussed, Manchester City have spent the majority of the past two years playing without a recognised striker.

With the departure of all-time top scorer Sergio Agüero last summer, and Gabriel Jesus’ conversion to being a winger in the 2021/22 campaign, manager Pep Guardiola altered his system to feature a false-nine in attack.

A multitude of players – comprising of Bernardo Silva, Kevin de Bruyne, Phil Foden, Cole Palmer, Riyad Mahrez, Raheem Sterling, Ferran Torres and Jack Grealish – were tried out in the role, with varying degrees of success.

On paper, it certainly seems that Erling Haaland and Julian Álvarez will compete to be that traditional central striker that Manchester City have gone without, but what should we expect from each player?

Erling Haaland and Julian Alvarez of Manchester City celebrate. Action Plus Sports Images / Alamy
Erling Haaland and Julian Alvarez of Manchester City celebrate. Action Plus Sports Images / Alamy

Neither man’s skillset wholly matches the stereotypes assigned to them by casual onlookers.

Earmarked by many as an old-school target man style of striker due to his height and strength, Erling Haaland is actually a much more well-rounded forward.

His turn of pace isn’t what you’d describe as electric, as a 6’4” Viking sprinting towards you at high speed is far from “blink-and-you’ll miss it”, but he can definitely shift.

It’s this combination of pace and power that makes the Norwegian such a threat in transition, and the feeling of having been blitzed by a one-man Haaland counter-attack is one that many German defences have grown accustomed to in the last two years.

Conversely, you’d expect someone of Julian Álvarez’s build and physical capabilities to be overly reliant on speed, but as we saw from the Argentinian’s appearances on the US pre-season tour and in the Community Shield, he’s more than happy to get involved in build-up like the false-nine we’ve been used to seeing for Manchester City.

City fans may remember from the encounter between Pep Guardiola’s men and Borussia Dortmund in the 2020/21 Champions League quarter-final that Erling Haaland was reluctant to hold up the ball or compete with Rúben Dias and John Stones in the air, instead preferring to run off the defenders and get in behind – the same tactic he employed against Bayern Munich in Green Bay, and at the King Power Stadium against Liverpool.

A certain Kevin de Bruyne will be licking his lips at the prospect of a partnership with the Norwegian, as his passes have so often gone unrewarded with an assist, as Manchester City’s recent array of forwards squander one-on-one opportunities (assuming that the new man’s wayward finishing at the weekend was the exception to the rule).

The Belgian international could still prosper from Erling Haaland’s height as well, as despite that preference for balls on the deck, the striker’s sheer height and movement will surely mean that crosses swung his way - be it from de Bruyne or the similarly creative João Cancelo, Jack Grealish or Riyad Mahrez, have a higher chance of ending up in the net.

We saw in the Community Shield that Haaland’s supporting cast seemed a little reluctant to feed him in the way he was looking for, but once mutual understanding is built, Manchester City should reap the benefits.

Erling Haaland in action for Manchester City.
Erling Haaland in action for Manchester City.

So, are Haaland and Álvarez going to be competing or dovetailing with each other?

The latter was initially subbed on as a winger at the weekend against Liverpool, but the system soon switched up to as close as a Pep Guardiola Manchester City side can come to an old-fashioned 4-4-2, with the two new forwards partnering each other through the middle.

The Argentinian’s array of talents are useful when structuring multiple different styles; his pace and ability to beat a man are hallmarks of a dangerous winger, whilst his willingness to drop deep and link play intricately are indicators that he can be trusted either to partner Haaland - doing some of the hard yards that the less nimble man may find more taxing, or to lead the line himself.

Either way, the predatory instincts he showcased to nab his first goal in blue on Saturday afternoon were - without wanting to pile the pressure on the 22-year-old at this early stage of his career in England - reminiscent of another explosive Argentinian striker of whom you may have one or two fond memories…

The warnings are there for Manchester City to heed in returning to having a traditional point-man; Romelu Lukaku’s highly expensive return to Chelsea last summer did not go at all to plan, whilst other top clubs have also found success in central players being utilised in unorthodox roles, such as Liverpool with Sadio Mané or Harry “Quarterback” Kane at Tottenham.

The suggestion has been made that Manchester City would be better off remaining with their current system of false-nines and not-quite-strikers; it has won them the Premier League title in each of the last two seasons, after all.

But in those campaigns, the Blues’ top scorers have been İlkay Gündoğan with 13, then Kevin de Bruyne with 15 – strong totals for midfield players, but surely having a Sergio Agüero-like presence or two to (hopefully) guarantee in the region of 35 league goals between them can only make this super-team that bit stronger?

If even one of the Erling Haaland and Julian Álvarez signings works out, there’s one particular trophy yet to grace Manchester City’s cabinet which could now be within reach.

Featured Image Credit: Action Plus Sports Images / Alamy

Topics: Julian Alvarez, Erling Haaland, Manchester City, Premier League, Football

Hamish MacRae
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