If you haven’t heard the name ‘Julián Álvarez’ by now, I am sure 2022 will be the year in which you do. Julián Álvarez is an Argentinian attacker who has been nothing short of sensational in 2021 and has taken the Liga Profesional by storm. Álvarez is 21 years old and is into his third season at River Plate. He has been a standout player not just in Argentina, but in all of South America, featuring for River Plate in the Copa Libertadores and Argentina in the Copa America and World Cup qualifiers. 2022 is going to be a big year for Álvarez with a move to Europe highly likely, and he will expectedly have his choice of clubs. He is currently being linked with everyone from AC Milan to Real Madrid. Álvarez will follow a long line of exciting South American prospects to come to Europe, with Lautaro Martínez providing a recent example of an exciting South American prodigy crossing continents to Europe. The following tactical analysis and scout report will investigate Álvarez’s game and look at some of his key attributes which have made him the most sought-after player in South America.
Julián Álvarez can play many different positions across the front line. He has the versatility to play as a striker, off the striker, wide left or wide right. This is shown brilliantly by the heat map below which indicates that this season, Álvarez has been extremely versatile and featured heavily in different positions. Álvarez has many skills and attributes, some of which we’ll touch upon in the scout report. He also has a great ability to score any type of goal and when looking through the goals he has scored this season, I think every type of goal is there to see.
So far this season, Álvarez has been producing some superb metrics. In all competitions this season, Álvarez has scored 23 goals and produced 16 assists at the time of writing. This is an impressive haul and is demonstrated below comparing his output to Argentina’s other strikers and attackers. From the graph, we can see that Álvarez has been the standout attacker with no one near him in terms of both goals and assists. His 23 goals are only matched or bettered by José Sand and Silvio Romero. However, Álvarez is the league’s top scorer with 17, three goals clear of anyone else
This isn’t just a fluke, as Álvarez is standing out in terms of expected goals and expected assists too. Again, in this graph, you can see that no one is really coming close to Álvarez in the combination of the two metrics.
Addressing the data is important when doing an analysis of Julián Álvarez, as this helps to show that the impressive goalscoring is in fact down to good positioning and putting himself in good goalscoring positions, while the impressive assist record is due to him creating good quality chances for his teammates.
Anticipation/ clever movements in the box
When you watch Julián Álvarez’s goals, you can’t help but notice how he comes alive in the box, whether this is by making darting runs or using clever positioning to anticipate the ball and strike home for River Plate, he really does come alive in the box. He has an ability to anticipate the ball and can find himself on the end of many a rebound or drop ball and although some would argue this is luck or a fluke, it is more a case of clever positioning and putting himself in the right areas to anticipate and score rebounds. This is a quality many great attackers possess, especially those who find themselves in and amongst the goals on a regular basis. The below example shows how Álvarez comes alive in the box and has the knack of anticipating the ball before anyone else. One of his teammates is carrying the ball and looking to dribble into the space highlighted, while Álvarez is circled in the box. As he continues his run, Álvarez holds his position as the Racing defenders drop slightly bringing him onside.
The ball carrier has several options, he could slide the ball into Álvarez or send the ball between the two defenders for him to run onto.
Despite the options to Álvarez, the River player tries playing a ball inside and sees his pass blocked and the ball rolls into the box. This is where Álvarez comes alive, pouncing on the ball and firing into the keeper’s right, giving River a 2-0 lead.
This isn’t just luck — the clever pocket of space he found, his awareness to make sure he is onside and the alertness to react to the ball before anyone else allows what seems a lucky goal. Also, he takes his shot the first time and confidently powers home, again these may seem so simple, but the best players do the basic things consistently well. If Álvarez has a touch here, he may be gets blocked.
A similar situation occurred in River Plate Vs San Lorenzo, River has worked the ball down the right-hand side and played a cross in, it doesn’t find Álvarez and it is played behind him. However, he doesn’t just ball watch and observes play unfold, but instead, he finds space for himself in the box and positions himself for a potential cross or rebound.
As the man in possession shoots, Álvarez is in acres of space and perfectly positioned for a rebound and as the keeper makes a save, it falls right to Álvarez’s feet and he can tap home to give River the lead.
As we mentioned in the first example, Álvarez has great positioning and anticipation for where the ball will fall and by putting himself in these types of positions continuously, the ball will eventually drop to him.
Whether he is playing as a striker or an inside forward/winger this is a feature of his game. The next example shows Álvarez making clever movements within the box. This is from River Plate Vs Boca Juniors earlier in the season, where two Álvarez goals gave River the win.
River has won the ball high up the field on the righthand side where they have used the overlap to create a crossing situation. You can see Álvarez in the middle waiting to make a run across the Boca centre back towards the front post. Álvarez wants to attack the front post to remove the chance of one of the Boca centre backs intercepting the cross. Due to him being well positioned in between the two Boca centre backs, the left-sided one doesn’t recognize his run until it’s too late.
This is shown below with the Boca defender looking at Álvarez as he is about to pass him on his way to attack the front post.
He manages to beat the defender to the ball and brilliantly slots past the Boca Juniors keeper.
Again, this may seem simple, but the well-executed basics — such as the initial positioning putting him between the two centre backs, the run to the front post area which was timed perfectly and the well-placed finish to remove any chance of the keeper making a save — have allowed Álvarez to make it look so simple. All come together to look simple but are so effective.
Attacking run and movements
Another standout aspect of Julián Álvarez’s game is his attacking runs which are varying and effective but tailored to where he is on the pitch. He often uses a combination of speed and intelligence to make effective runs and create goalscoring chances for himself or his teammates. In this example, Álvarez has recovered the ball on the right-hand side, while he is going to play a ball to Fernández who is in acres of space in midfield. After making the pass, he is going to make an out to in run similar to the one shown in white.
As Fernández carries the ball forward, Álvarez continues his run, running in the space between the full-back and centre back. Álvarez knows that as the left-back has had to come out of position to deal with him on the ball, there will be a space between the left-back and centre back.
Fernández plays a beautiful, looped ball over the left-sided centre back in the space for Álvarez to attack.
Álvarez meets the ball before taking a first-time finish and putting the ball beyond the Platense keeper. The ball from Fernández is brilliant, as is the run and timing from Álvarez, yet again.
Álvarez has a great knack for identifying and exploiting space. There is a wide array of examples I could show of him doing so, but the next one shows his intelligence and clever positioning.
Álvarez is in the pocket of space between the lines as highlighted, this gives him several options. He can receive the ball in the space or be ready to exploit any space that is created. As the ball is played to the River player between the lines, the San Lorenzo left-sided centre back pushes up to engage him and this creates space for Álvarez to move into and exploit.
As the space opens up, Álvarez is already making the run into it and looking to exploit the space. The River player on the ball finds him in space.
Álvarez arrives at the ball and takes a first-time shot which manages to evade the keeper to his bottom left. The intelligence to manipulate space and weaknesses within the backline is evident throughout the scout report and is one of the strongest attributes of his game.
Pressing / High turnovers
Álvarez is an effective presser out of possession. Even when looking at Álvarez’s goals, you notice he has the habit of creating goals and chances for himself by closing down defenders and goalkeepers. This is supported by the fact he has 3.69 recoveries in opposition half per 90, which is a strong number for an attacker. This shows that Álvarez has the ability to win the ball in the opposition half. The first example of Álvarez doing this comes against Patronato, the Patronato player sends a ball back to his keeper, which triggers a press from Álvarez, as you can see below
Álvarez is quick in addition to being a persistent runner. Here, Álvarez makes sure he arcs his run to cut off the inside passing lane for the keeper forcing him to use his left foot and also minimizing the passing options.
After a poor touch from the keeper, Álvarez nicks the ball off him and slots home from the angle.
Here is another example of Álvarez pressing and harassing opposing defenders and how it has led to goals and assists for himself. Here, against Central Córdoba, you can see Álvarez pressing the right-sided centre back. He is going to force the centre back to go forward, and by doing so, forces the defender to make too many touches.
Álvarez continues to harass the defender and after a slightly wayward touch, he manages to turn the ball over. As he takes a heavy touch, he cleverly steps across him and uses his body to keep the ball away from the Córdoba defender.
After recovering the ball, Álvarez manages to play the ball to Carrascal who manages to slot home and give River Plate the lead.
Julián Álvarez is a very talented footballer who has a complete set of skills and attributes, especially for someone so young. In the year 2022, I am sure we will start to see these for one of Europe’s biggest clubs. He is versatile and can impact games wherever he plays across the front line. His physical abilities are strong but what makes Álvarez so special is his intelligence, hopefully, through this scout report, his footballing intellect has become apparent and in nearly every example shown, he has demonstrated footballing intelligence. This should be able to translate over to the European leagues where he will face much fiercer competition — which may take some adapting to — but given time, Álvarez has everything that is needed to excel.