Tactics Journal

by Kyle Boas

Analyzing football tactics

The Julian Alvarez Domino Effect

Manchester City has a plethora of players who dribble at defenders to draw them out, but Julian Alvarez is unique to their attack because he creates space for others with his movement off-the-ball.

Alvarez was subbed on in the 54th minute, and seconds later, Manchester City scored their first goal.

Figure 1.1 - 3-4-3 build-up shape in the middle third. Manuel Akanji passes to Rodri.
Figure 1.2 - Julian Alvarez moves back to receive the pass in space.

Julian Alvarez’s movement back, before receiving the ball, opens up the space ahead of him to take his first touch into.

Figure 1.3 - Julian Alvarez's first touch.
Figure 1.4 - Julian Alvarez passes to Phil Foden.
Figure 1.5 - Phil Foden passes to Erling Haaland.
Figure 1.6 - Erling Haaland is in on goal.

Four passes and they are in on goal. That movement draws the defender behind Alvarez towards him, and a space opens in the right half-space for Rico Lewis to attack. Then because he moves away from Foden, Foden then has space ahead of him to take his first touch into.

It’s a domino effect.

Figure 2.1 - Julian Alvarez feints towards the ball and then moves back.
Figure 2.2 - Julian Alvarez backpedals into the right half-space, drawing two defenders towards him. This creates more space for Phil Foden, 1v1.

Julian Alvarez again creates space for his teammates. That movement back creates space on the opposite side of the pitch for Phil Foden to operate in, isolating him 1v1. It shifts RB Leipzig to the ball-side, leaving more space free on the far-side.

Figure 2.3 - Josko Gvardiol passes to Phil Foden.
Figure 2.4 - Phil Foden receives the pass in space.
Figure 2.5 - Phil Foden beats his man, shoots, and scores.

That space for Phil Foden is created by Julian Alvarez. They are already marking Erling Haaland, but he stays wide to drag defenders away from Foden.

Foden doesn’t need a lot of space, but if you give him a ton he can beat his man 1v1. Without that space, there’s a good chance he wouldn’t sit in that pocket at the top of the box, or attempt to dribble past his marker.

Figure 3.1 - After Manchester City equalize, the switch to a 3-2-2-3 box midfield.

Of note; when Alvarez came on, Manchester City was using a 3-4-3 diamond formation that is new this season and more fluid, but they switched to a rigid box midfield to maintain the 2-2 draw once they equalized.

The box midfield, once an exotic and new formation last season, has now turned into their conservative approach to maintain the scoreline or stem the tide of a desperate opposition’s attack. They only needed a draw to top the group, so going safe is smart, but it’s interesting that is now their defensive go-to.

Figure 4.1 - Phil Foden feints left but turns towards the goal-line.
Figure 4.2 - Julian Alvarez holds his run, to sit in a pocket of space, and Phil Foden cuts back a pass to him.
Figure 4.3 - Julian Alvarez receives the ball, in space, and scores.

Three goals scored from the time Alvarez is subbed on, and the 3-2 win is secured. The entire team elevated their play but that movement to create space for others is key.

Your whole team can’t just be progressive dribblers. You need someone whose sole job is to create space for others, and that is Julian Alvarez’s job. He might not be as good on the turn or as creative a passer as Phil Foden, but his high intelligence to know when and where to move is vital to creating that space.

Match: Manchester City 3-2 RB Leipzig, 28 November 2023

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