Julian Alvarez

One dreaded question Manchester City will never want to have to answer but will inevitably be forced to one day is: ‘what do they do without Erling Haaland?’

Haaland has only been a City player for 15 games but the 22 goals he has scored in that time have already made him an intrinsic part of Pep Guardiola’s side. The way the Blues’ attack and build-up play has changed from what it was last season thanks to the Norwegian sensation’s remarkable physical qualities and clinical edge in front of goal. Removing such an integral card could see the whole house flutter down.

There have only been two occasions since the season began in which Haaland has not been on the pitch when the game has not already been safely won. On both occasions, City failed to score. The 0-0 against FC Copenhagen in which he sat the game out on the bench and Tuesday’s stalemate with Borussia Dortmund, in which he failed to find the back of the net in the opening 45 minutes before being taken off at half-time.

It’s only a tiny sample size at this point and it will need to happen far more often before it can become an ‘official’ problem, but there are early warning signs that City might struggle to find the back of the net if their monstrous goalscorer isn’t on the pitch. Which must have Guardiola pondering that question.

Especially because there has been the first real hint that the injury problems that plagued him at Dortmund might soon strike at City. Guardiola has been delighted with how fit and ready Haaland has been given his struggles last season but he revealed after this week’s game that a slight foot problem, as well as having suffered a fever earlier in the week, is why the striker was withdrawn at the break.

“Erling had a bit of fever before the game, Joao as well. I saw him tired, Joao as well,” he told BT Sport. “That’s why we change it. In that period we struggle a lot.”

In his press conference, he added: “Three things: I saw him so tired. The second one he had a bit of a fever, like Joao. The third, he had a knock in his feet. That is why he wasn’t able to play in the second half.

“I don’t know right now. They were a little bit concerned at half-time but I saw him walking OK at the end.”

Given he started the match, there didn’t appear to be any trouble after the game according to the manager and photos published by City on Twitter show Haaland all smiles in a recovery session it can’t be too serious of an issue. But it doesn’t take much for niggles to blossom into full-blown injuries.

When the day does come that Haaland is ruled out for a match, it will be very revealing for Julian Alvarez. The young Argentine has adapted well to a new continent, let alone country or league, but has found playing time at a premium.

His starting berth against Dortmund was just the fourth time he has played from the off since making the switch, with three coming in the Champions League. That easing into things is understandable given he has played more football than anyone else due to the timing of the Artgenentine season and it is a massive step up to what he is used to.

Guardiola has praised him highly but the fact remains he has played rarely and he hasn’t got the greatest goal return in his cameos, just three in his 14 appearances. Perhpas he is more comfortable starting games (all three strikes have come when he’s started) but with that sort of form and inexperience, it wouldn’t at all be surprising if the Blues boss doesn’t actually opt for him in the event of Haaland being unavailable.

He has precedent for this already this season by playing centre-backs Nathan Ake, John Stones or Manuel Akanji at full-back for big games despite Sergio Gomez being available. Instead of Alvarez, he could revert back to the false 9 that was used last season, with any of Kevin De Bruyne, Phil Foden, Bernardo Silva or Jack Grealish having played there before.

It might come as a kick in the teeth to Alvarez to learn he isn’t second in the pecking order behind Haaland, but it would be a good message to send to the 22-year-old that just being the only other striker in the club doesn’t necessarily mean he’s guaranteed to be second choice – just as Gabriel Jesus discovered.

Hopefully, it’s something that won’t be discovered any time soon but the moment Haaland is unavailable, Alvarez will learn just how highly he is ranked in Guardiola’s squad.

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