Julian Alvarez-Erling Haaland partnership proving to be another Man City masterstroke

Last season, Guardiola adopted an old idea of Tony Pulis, who would normally be seen as his philosophical opposite, by playing four centre-backs

The Catalan coach opted to play without a striker just two seasons ago, but is now embracing a more old-fashioned system at the Etihad Stadium

Last year, a panel of top former players on BT Sport paid tribute to Pep Guardiola for transforming English football. Rio Ferdinand, Joe Cole and Glen Hoddle all praised the Manchester City manager for getting the nation to embrace European ideas, claiming that since the serial-winning Catalan had arrived in England in 2016, he had helped change the culture for the better.

“We have now embraced that European way of playing and our ideas about football,” Ferdinand said. “Being in and around the academies, the coaching is so different compared to when we grew up when it was all shouting and dragging people left and right. Whereas now, it’s very much that culture of Guardiola, who has had a huge influence on that style of football.” Hoddle added: “We were stuck in our ways of playing 4-4-2 back in the 1970s and 80s.”

Guardiola has always played down this idea whenever it has been brought up, claiming he has not changed English football and never wanted to. “Absolutely I didn’t change it. Every manager has his own ideas, I didn’t change anything honestly,” he said last May.

But he has admitted that English football has changed him and that he has taken “many things” from his adopted home. “Here changed me, of course. I got to know new players, new styles, new managers, new ways to relate with the media, with my players. Every manager is a better manager than you were in the beginning.”

Last season, Guardiola adopted an old idea of Tony Pulis, who would normally be seen as his philosophical opposite, by playing four centre-backs in some games and turning Nathan Ake and Manuel Akanji into full-backs. And this season, he has embraced another old idea: playing the 4-4-2 formation Hoddle talked about as a sign of how dated the English game had become.

A lot of thought and planning goes into every Guardiola innovation, however, and the thinking behind his latest tactical scheme is very simple: it is a way to accommodate his two world-class strikers, Erling Haaland and Julian Alvarez.

Two transfer coups
In 2022, City pulled off two transfer coups, one in each window. In January, they signed Alvarez, who was practically unknown outside of South America, from River Plate. They paid around £15 million ($18m) for a player who at the time was 21 years old and allowed him to remain with his club until the summer. Alvarez had been the top scorer in the Argentine top-flight and in May, just before he moved over to England, he scored six goals in one match against against Allianza Lima.

Later that year, City announced they had agreed to sign Haaland, who had averaged a goal per game with Borussia Dortmund and had lit up the Champions League. It was a sensational move for City, especially at only £51m ($63m), but spelt bad news for Alvarez, who was now competing for a place in the team with the most feared striker in the world.

The one game Alvarez did start alongside Haaland early on, however, could hardly have gone better as the Argentine scored twice and the Norwegian grabbed a hat-trick in the 6-0 mauling of Nottingham Forest.

However, Alvarez started only three Premier League games before the World Cup and had to make the most of substitute appearances while the Norwegian made a blistering start to life in English football, crushing almost every goalscoring record imaginable.


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