Julian Alvarez

Manchester City could start a Premier League game without Erling Haaland for the first time this season, if he doesn’t recover from his combination of flu and a knock to his ankle. Haaland has 17 goals and three assists in his 11 Premier League outings so far, already surpassing last season’s top scorer in the league.

If he was to miss the trip to Leicester, City would have to find another source of goals at the King Power Stadium.

On the only other occasion where Haaland hasn’t started this season, City drew a blank in Copenhagen (not helped by having 10 men for the majority), and they were also goalless in the second half in Dortmund this week when Haaland was replaced. Haaland has scored or assisted 55 per cent of City’s goals this season, so Pep Guardiola’s side will have to figure out a new way to score if he isn’t fit enough to play on Saturday.

After City’s first pre-season friendly in Houston, Jack Grealish confidently told reporters: “He actually reminds me of Vardy, the way he presses, can finish and runs in behind.”

Grealish was giving his first impressions of Julian Alvarez, who began life at City with an encouraging four goals in 10 games, averaging a goal every 90 minutes or so. However, the goalless draws in Copenhagen and Dortmund, plus three Premier League substitute appearances without scoring, have added around 50 minutes to that average.

Alvarez this week claimed he was happy playing second-choice to Haaland and is learning plenty in his first months at City. His recent appearances have been thankless tasks with City not exactly breaking their necks to score for various reasons.

So if Alvarez is picked at Leicester, he will have a chance to prove his credentials as the leading striker for the first time, in a team set up to attack. It would be a timely game to prove Grealish right at a ground where Vardy has made his name.

Guardiola wasn’t critical of Riyad Mahrez in Dortmund for missing his penalty, praising the courage to step up, but he admitted that the Algerian wasn’t likely to be on spot-kick duty for the foreseeable future. It looks as though Haaland is the logical penalty-taker going forward after two emphatic goals from the spot so far, although if he misses out then who would step up at Leicester?

Mahrez may drop to the bench after missing two big chances in two games, coupled with the fact that Grealish got a rest in the week. Kevin De Bruyne would probably be the next choice to take a penalty, but his record isn’t perfect, so as the attention over City’s poor conversion rate from 12 yards returns, a penalty at the King Power could throw up more issues on Saturday.

City have a completely free hit on Wednesday against Sevilla in the Champions League, with all group places decided before the final round of fixtures. Therefore, there’s no need for Guardiola to play any key players he doesn’t need to, meaning he can go strong at Leicester knowing most players can have a full week to recover. It’s not as simple as resting a full XI on Wednesday, but players like De Bruyne, Haaland, Joao Cancelo and Phil Foden don’t need to be used against the Spaniards at all.

How that affects Guardiola’s selection at Leicester will be interesting, especially in defence, with five centre-backs competing for two spaces – plus an extra full-back deputy – and also competition for places in attack. Whoever Guardiola prioritises for Leicester and the following Premier League clash with Fulham, it will be an indication of what he feels is his strongest side going into the final five fixtures before the World Cup.

On paper, Guardiola has won 11 of his 15 meetings with Leicester (including six wins from eight at the King Power), and City have won four of their last five league visits to the Foxes without conceding. However, two of those wins in all competitions were on penalties, and Leicester were one of only four sides to beat City in 2018/19 with a 2-1 win on Boxing Day.

City’s 6-3 home win last season was used as an example by Pep Guardiola of the dangers of switching off, while the 1-0 away win was hardly straightforward. Leicester’s brilliant 5-2 win at City early in the 2020/21 season was another reminder of the Foxes’ threats, as was their Community Shield win last season. Even after a poor start, Brendan Rodgers’ side are rediscovering some form, and City know from experience that Leicester away will be anything but an easy three points.


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