Haaland, Alvarez and Palmer can give Pep Guardiola what he’s been looking for at Man City

Erling Haaland and Julian Alvarez can form City's attack of the future
Erling Haaland and Julian Alvarez can form City’s attack of the future

On February 1, 2017, the future arrived at Manchester City.

City faced West Ham at the London Stadium, way off the pace in the title race but needing a win to boost their bid for a top-four finish. Pep Guardiola’s first season in charge wasn’t going to plan, but that night in east London was one of the highlights of the campaign.

City thumped the hosts 4-0, with a youthful front-three running the opposition defenders ragged. Leroy Sane (21), Gabriel Jesus (19) and Raheem Sterling (22) put in a terrifying performance, all speed, relentless running and endless changes of directions, flicks and precise passing.

Sterling had, of course, already been at the club for a year-and-a-half, but Sane and Jesus were new additions that season. In fact, that night Jesus scored his first goal for the Blues, a simple tap-in following an incisive Sane through-ball and an unselfishly squared ball from Sterling.

With Sergio Aguero left on the bench and with the likes of Kevin De Bruyne and David Silva linking up so well with the attacking trio, it really felt like that frontline was to be the future of City.

Clearly things didn’t pan out that way; five years on and all three have left the club. Sane left for Bayern Munich in 2020 after his relationship with Guardiola hit the rocks, while Jesus and Sterling have this summer joined Arsenal and Chelsea, respectively, in search of more regular starting roles.

Jesus is 25 now, Sane 26 and Sterling 27, so in theory, all are a lot closer to the prime of their careers than five years ago. In reality, though, only Sterling has lived up to the expectations that grew back then, even if he was inconsistent during his final two years at the Etihad.

Jesus played an important role in City’s most recent Premier League title triumph, but you’d be hard pushed to say he lived up to the expectation that he might replace Aguero as City’s main striker. But these things happen in football – players and teams do not always progress at the same rate, and player development can be unpredictable.

In 2022/23, six years after City signed Sane and Jesus, Guardiola will have a new youthful attacking trio to play with. In Phil Foden, Erling Haaland, Cole Palmer and Julian Alvarez, City have a few attacking combinations that could bring success for years to come.

Haaland (21) will provide the ruthless finishing that Jesus never quite mastered, while Foden (also 21) has already shown that his game is much more disciplined and selfless than Sane’s ever was.

While Alvarez (22) is a natural finisher, in Haaland’s shadow he might find more minutes out on the right flank. Cole Palmer (20) will also hope to find minutes there in place of Riyad Mahrez, a homegrown talent like Foden who – barring exceptional circumstances – is unlikely to want to leave the club any time soon.

Foden and Palmer are academy graduates who have been brought up on Guardiola football, while Alvarez possesses a skillset that seems like it was made for it. Haaland might need some time to adapt, but his finishing will more than make up for that.

Only time will tell, but Foden, Haaland, Palmer and Alvarez might form the attack that Guardiola wished Sane, Jesus and Sterling had become.

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