Julian Alvarez steps up for Manchester City again after RB Leipzig stifle Erling Haaland

Manchester City's Julian Alvarez celebrates with his team-mate Jeremy Doku after scoring his side's second goal during the Champions League match with RB Leipzig

Much like Wolverhampton Wanderers at the weekend, RB Leipzig did a pretty sterling job of keeping Erling Haaland quiet here. As more and more opponents are starting to find, though, when the big man does not step up for Manchester City, the European champions are increasingly able to rely upon his little sidekick to take a starring role.

This game was following a similar trajectory to their previous encounter in Saxony, in February, when Leipzig recovered from a first half in which they were second best to equalise and claim a hard earned draw.

But then Julian Alvarez entered the fray and, by the end, Leipzig were staring at a 3-1 defeat after twice being unpicked by the brilliance of the Argentine. Alvarez had only been on the pitch for five minutes, a replacement for Phil Foden, when another substitute, Jeremy Doku, poked a pass through to him on the edge of the penalty area.

With a posse of white shirts around, there was no obvious route to goal but Alvarez dug out a shot from under his feet that, with the help of a slight deflection off Nicolas Seiwald, raced into the top corner.

It was Alvarez’s sixth goal of a hugely promising season in which it is clear he is not content with being a mere support act to Haaland but he was not done there. With the game in stoppage time, Alvarez then turned provider, playing a pinpoint pass into the path of Doku to finish coolly.

After a season in which he added the Treble of Premier League title, European Cup and FA Cup to the World Cup he won with Argentina, it is clear the 23-year-old is becoming a major player for both his club and country and Pep Guardiola’s plaudits afterwards were telling.

“Listen, a player who is a world champion, it’s because he’s a good player,” the City manager said. “It was an outstanding goal but it’s not the first time. The impact [from the bench] was huge.”

With two wins from their opening two games in Group A and their most difficult game now safely navigated, City’s passage to the Champions League knockout stages for the 11th consecutive season already has the feel of a formality. After back-to-back defeats, this was a welcome return to winning ways with Arsenal to face at the Emirates Stadium on Sunday, when Guardiola will be without the suspended Rodri.

City have now gone an English record equalling 16 matches unbeaten in Europe and, while it was Alvarez who ultimately made the decisive impact, it was another youngster who helped to give the team a real platform in the game.

Rico Lewis plays with a maturity far beyond his tender years and if Guardiola was wondering who to deploy in central midfield against Arsenal in Rodri’s absence then the 18-year-old from Bury gave his manager plenty to chew over here. Mateo Kovacic will doubtless come back into the side but Lewis would more than warrant a place alongside him.

This was a performance brimming with energy and brains. Lewis played a vital role in City’s transition to a 3-2-4-1 system last winter and the full-back again thrived in the midfield role Guardiola favours for him. City’s best work on the night tended to involve Lewis and he was instrumental in the opening goal scored by Foden. Leipzig were cut open by the combination play of Bernardo Silva and Lewis, whose pull back after a penetrating run in behind for Foden was inch perfect. So too was Foden’s finish.

“He played good, eh?” a beaming Guardiola said of Lewis. “What a player. Eighteen years old. I’ve been a manager for years, training unbelievable players, to find a player like him in the pockets, he is one of the best I’ve ever trained. He’s a humble guy, doesn’t talk much. He helped us a lot [last season] to understand what we had to do.

“I’ve spoken to the other players and they like him. When you gain the respect of your team-mates, that’s the most important thing. He has it and that’s the key point. They know they can rely on him.”

Leipzig, as they did in February in the first leg of their round-of-16 tie with City, rallied after the break and scored a fine goal on the transition when Lois Openda thumped home a shot off the inside of a post after Jack Grealish had turned over possession.

The Germans remained a threat on the break and, with Haaland below par and snatching at chances, City were grateful Alvarez demonstrated a decidedly cooler head after his introduction.

Arsenal beware him – and Lewis.