Joining a Pep Guardiola side doesn’t always work from the word ‘go’. Many players take some months to settle in before making a big impact for the Catalan. History is filled with these examples, making it seem like a fact. The same has taken place with Riyad Mahrez and his true emergence this season. Anyone who has watched Mahrez via the best sports API this season will have seen how much he has given to the City cause.
The Algerian’s move to City came about in the summer of 2018 for a fee of £60 million. He was meant to add directness from the right side and add some more flair to Pep’s outfit. He was at the peak of his powers all this while at Leicester City, scoring 12 and assisting ten in the 2017-18 campaign.
The move to City had a huge fee to the name. There was added pressure on the winger to make an impact from the first day. But for someone who had won the Premier League in the 2015-16 season by playing in a pragmatic way in a 4-4-2 shape, it was always going to take time.
Last season saw Mahrez contribute to only 11 goals in the Premier League- making only 14 starts as Leroy Sane, Bernardo Silva and Raheem Sterling made a real impact in the whole season. While that tally wasn’t as low as the Leicester one in the 2016-17 season or in the 2014-15 season, but it was low for Man City’s standards.
But the winger could complete only 0.9 dribbles per game- his lowest in the Premier League. He couldn’t take on defenders and beat them. The complexity of Guardiola’s system was something he couldn’t crack so early. As his key passes tally stood at 0.9 as well. He couldn’t get involved in creation as much as the others in his position.
It could have easily been a case of him losing confidence. Because once the season ended, Mahrez starred for Algeria in the AFCON of 2019. While Ismael Bennacer was the Player of the Tournament, but the winger got three goals in the game.
Perhaps, that has given him the confidence to make a real statement this season. Without him, Man City could have been fighting for the top-four spot. He seems to be back to his best and he’s understanding Guardiola’s demanding system more.
He’s already contributed to 15 goals in the Premier League- more than last season. He’s come up with two key passes per game and has completed 1.7 dribbles per game as well. That is much higher than last season and a lot like the normal Mahrez from the Foxes period. Sure, many a leading football odds comparison site makes it clear City won’t win the Premier League this season but this is a player improving.
Early on in the season, Guardiola did praise Mahrez for his progress. He told reporters: “Riyad is a smart guy, he’s intelligent, he’s a talented player. He knows what we want and he’s able to do it. He trains good and he can change the game.
“He’s good for our competitors, for Leroy and Bernardo, and he’s ready to take his position.”
Bernardo hasn’t been as influential this season, while Sterling hasn’t got as many numbers in recent weeks. Sane has been out injured, with speculation about a move to Bayern Munich still refusing to go away.
That has made Mahrez’s rise even more important. He’s scored vital goals, scoring against Chelsea and grabbing one goal against Leicester themselves. The fact that his important contributions have come against the teams around City makes it even more special.
He may be 29 currently but Mahrez could still have two or years at the top level left in him. And City will have to make the most of that.