Julian Alvarez is Pep Guardiola's stealth signing

Julian Alvarez arrived on the scene with all the subtlety of a high-speed train. First there was the impossibly bright dot of light on the horizon, then the sleek body began to take shape, and in an instant it was rushing past in a wind of its own making. The smarterscout young prospect had an incredible breakout season at River Plate, and despite his short stature – perhaps even because of it – began to attract comparisons to Argentina's greats. And now he's on his way to Manchester City, but the possible reasons why might surprise you.

One thing is for sure: the kid had some amazing numbers. His attacking output in Argentina was outstanding even at a Premier League standard, and his finishing was phenomenal as well:

Alvarez's attacing might be worth an extra 0.10 expected goals above replacement per match, meaning that he might contribute 0.1 GD more per match than a median Premier League striker over the course of a season. Multiply that by 25 or 30 matches, and you can see how formidable a whole XI of players like him would be. His finishing skill only multiplies his value – as his shot map shows, he can score from just about anywhere in open play:

From just about anywhere Alvarez has tried a few shots, he's scored. At just 1.68m, he even put away a header from roughly the depth of the penalty spot, recalling a certain header that a certain other Argentina scored in a certain final against a certain other Manchester club. And indeed, Alvarez has been scoring at roughly twice the rate we'd expect from a generic striker in Argentina's top tier:

He's also been involved in roughly three quarters of River Plate's goals while on the pitch, and the lion's share of their expected goals. What's even more interesting is that a quarter of his goal contributions have come from passing. This is because he's no pint-sized target man; rather, he plays fairly deep and gets into the box relatively rarely for a striker. In style, he's a reasonable close match to withdrawn forwards such as Josip Ilicic and Alexis Sanchez. Does that mean he'll come in as a false nine at the Etihad, spelling the likes of Phil Foden and Bernardo Silva?

We might well think that, and we might well be wrong. If we look for players at Manchester City who have the most similar pitch coverage to Alvarez's at River Plate, we don't come up with an obvious name like Foden or Silva. In fact, the most similar is none other than Kevin de Bruyne – when he's playing CM:

The resemblance here is pretty stunning, and it explains why Alvarez may be a better fit in the Premier League – and especially at Manchester City – than his physical attributes might suggest. Alvarez isn't big, but he already has good dribbling skill for the league and a tricky mix of actions on the edge of the final third. His finishing makes him a danger from outside the box, drawing defenders and opening up space inside the box for his teammates. Even if he lines up as a striker, he can clearly play in midfield.

Alvarez looks like another one of Pep Guardiola's interchangeable parts, the hybrid forwards/midfielders who can pop up anywhere in the attacking half and do some damage. Did Ilkay Guendogan think he'd be a top scorer when he came to England? Did Silva and Foden see themselves playing centrally at the tip of the spear? They might have, if they spent much time watching Andres Iniesta and Lionel Messi at Barcelona. Now it's Alvarez's turn to find out how Guardiola will stretch his abilities, and for an initial fee of just over £15m he looks like an absolute snip.

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