Julián Álvarez had to patiently wait for his first start at the World Cup in Qatar. Inter Milan’s Lautaro Martínez was the preferred option up front in the opening two games before Álvarez was given his first opportunity against Poland.
The Manchester City forward certainly passed his audition as he scored a magnificent goal to seal Argentina’s qualification as group winners.
Lionel Scaloni opted to persist with Álvarez in the last 16 game versus Australia and once again, he repaid his manager’s trust. The 22-year-old forced Matt Ryan into an error after his tenacious press led to a goal from virtually nothing which subsequently turned out to be the winning goal in a 2-1 victory.
Argentina have looked far more threatening since Álvarez came into the side and with his natural ability to operate in dangerous areas across the forward line, it has made them remarkably more fluid going forward. His tendency to drift out-wide has enabled Lionel Messi to attack more centrally between the goalposts.
Scaloni’s men have subsequently dropped the number of shots from outside the box by 17%. This would suggest Álvarez has contributed to a considerably more balanced attack which creates better quality chances.
Ultimately, since he displaced Martínez in the starting 11, his impact has been far superior. He has made more passes than Martínez, had more touches in the penalty area, provided more crosses, and most notably, scored more goals.
The nature of his game compliments Lionel Messi, who thrives when he has a striker more willing to adapt to the fluidity of his movements. Álvarez’s heat-map versus Australia demonstrated his willingness to operate across the width of the oppositions half and even sometimes in his own half. This often means he will occupy defenders or midfield players by dragging them out of position which allows space for Messi to create opportunities or score goals in the final third.
Álvarez will most likely make his third consecutive start on Friday when Argentina face Netherlands at the Lusail Stadium in the quarter-finals of the World Cup. He could create history and become the youngest player to score in his first three World Cup starts since Téofilo Cubillas did it for Peru in 1970.
Mark Marston | GWFN