EPL

Alvarez adds another dimension as Man City outclass big-game Liverpool

By Sports Desk April 01, 2023

Dietmar Hamann represented both Manchester City and Liverpool, Saturday's opponents, in his playing days. Now, working on German television, he is a dedicated contrarian.

The former midfielder's comments have irked Jurgen Klopp previously, while this week he was taking aim at Germany head coach Hansi Flick.

But when Erling Haaland was the subject of his criticism back in January, it was not Hamann's wildest take.

As City's superstar striker struggled in their derby defeat to Manchester United, Hamann posted on Twitter: "Man City was a better team without Haaland, even if he scores 40 goals this season."

It is easy to dismiss such a claim out of hand now, but there was at least debate at that stage in the season.

Almost three months on, that 40-goal mark has been passed in all competitions – Haaland is the only player in Europe's top five leagues to do so this term – and that conversation has quietly faded away.

If Hamann – or anyone else – was determined to revisit the discussion, however, Julian Alvarez's performance in a 4-1 win over Liverpool could be cited as evidence.

History-maker Haaland

Along with the sheer number of goals, Haaland's case until now has perhaps been helped by the increasing distance to the City of last season, a team without a traditional striker who won the Premier League title – something the class of 2022-23 may well not do.

Haaland has acknowledged he was signed to deliver glory in the Champions League, rather than merely another league success, but he has dominated domestically nonetheless.

In the Premier League, he has 28 goals, earning 20 points and making up 42 per cent of City's total prior to this weekend. All three numbers are club records.

So, news of Haaland failing to recover from a groin injury in time to feature on Saturday would have provided Liverpool some encouragement.

But as Pep Guardiola pointed out on the eve if the game: "In the past we also scored a lot of goals. Since we were here, and with Roberto Mancini and [Manuel] Pellegrini, always Man City was a team that scored a lot of goals in the season – with different players, different strikers."

And Alvarez has joined that group, a World Cup-winning striker eager to seize his opportunity in only his seventh league start of the season.

City's complete package

Alvarez might be considered a hybrid of Haaland and those who went before, as he illustrated against Liverpool.

The Argentina forward was on hand to equalise from close range when a flowing City move ended with Jack Grealish's low cross into the sort of position Haaland would usually occupy.

Another Alvarez shot led to the third goal, working space for an attempt that was deflected only as far as a grateful Ilkay Gundogan.

Alvarez had three shots, all from inside the box, worth a combined 0.82 expected goals. That could easily be a Haaland performance, the City number nine averaging 3.8 shots per 90, including 3.6 inside the box, worth 0.86 xG.

Yet the 23-year-old did more besides that, too. Only five of Alvarez's 32 touches were taken inside the box, his 15.6 per cent differing significantly from the 28.3 per cent of Haaland's touches that come inside the opposition's area.

As a result, Alvarez was far more involved in the build-up play than Haaland generally has been. He created two chances – Haaland averages 0.9 per 90 – but most importantly played a gorgeous pass out to Riyad Mahrez early in the second half, leading to Kevin De Bruyne's vital second goal.

Haaland surely would have hurt Liverpool, with Mahrez and Grealish piling forward on either side, but he would have done well to impact City's all-round performance as much as Alvarez did.

Liverpool lax at the back

Alvarez, Mahrez and Grealish undoubtedly benefited from another dismal defensive performance from Liverpool away from home.

"For one game, absolutely, they can beat everyone," Guardiola said of the Reds on Friday, and the data did not disagree. In a below-par campaign, they entered April having earned the most points in matches between this season's top six.

But they had still lost to Manchester United and Arsenal away from home, with their defeat of 10-man Newcastle United at St James' Park in February their sole success on the road in 2023.

Liverpool have lost at Brentford, Brighton and Hove Albion, Wolves and Bournemouth since the start of January, conceding 10 goals across those four matches.

A 4-1 defeat at City perhaps saw Liverpool get off lightly, as Klopp told BT Sport: "We were lucky they were not in the most greedy mood."

Mahrez and Grealish repeatedly exposed Andy Robertson and Trent Alexander-Arnold; Robertson's failure to make a tackle on De Bruyne in the build-up to Alvarez's goal left Klopp with his head in his hands.

That can happen against City, but it can also happen against Chelsea and Arsenal – Liverpool's next two opponents.

Klopp's men must respond to have any hope of qualifying for the Champions League next season. Perhaps, in a one-off game against the Gunners, they could yet do City a favour.

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