City may be on the rise, but Mahrez's yet to find his place in Pep's side
Blessed are they living in the days of Pep Guardiola. To say the Spaniard is one of best football managers in our time is simply an understatement. They are so many sides of the 48-year-old that has made it so difficult to describe him nor his football philosophy in words. He wowed the universe at Barcelona, overseeing a tiki-taka style of play that seemed impossible to contend with at Barcelona, implemented a totally different style at Bayern Munich and now changes formations, players and approaches almost every other match at City. A few things remain constant, his sides dominate possession, they fight and play like possessed men always wanting more despite the scoreline and they win. Dominantly overcoming Arsenal 3-1, Everton 2-0 and Chelsea 6-0 in a space of 7 days is beyond remarkable. But this piece is not about Pep and his masterclass, there is enough about that already.
Not quite there
Algerian playmaker, Riyad Mahrez, arrived at the blue side of Manchester last summer, in a record £60 million deal for the club. After a failed attempt to get the 27-year-old in January of 2018, Pep Guardiola finally got his man a few months after and indeed a welcome move for Mahrez and all the neutrals. Many had seen him chop and nutmeg premier league professionals, more so in Leicester City’s record breaking season and began to wonder how much more he could produce if surrounded by players of the calibre of David Silva, Kevin De Bruyne, Sergio Aguero and Leroy Sane. Even though Mahrez has 5 premier league goals and 2 assists to his name in only 10 appearances, on top of 4 assists and a goal in 3 champions league matches, he is still far from his best. It’s difficult not to recognise his discomfort and grind to cement his place in Guardiola’ setup, one that a record signing is expected to.
It’s no surprise that the winger has been less pronounced in conversations featuring Africa’s current best batch. Names such as Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Sadio Mane and Mo Salah have been thrown in that hat and serve as a testament that one needs to be scoring goals and getting regular game time for whatever club they play for inorder to fit the description. It’s true that Pep switches up his players quite a lot, but equally rewards the most outstanding performers with regular minutes as well. Riyad came on as a substitute in City’s 6-0 thrashing of Chelsea and half-completed passes, lost possession and tame shots at goal revealed the forward’s confidence levels and current status. Even more, his style of play of running down the wing, cutting inside and shooting at goal is yet to fully come alive at the Etihad. He has never been that tough tackling player who tracks down opponents or rushes for the press, attributes that have become consistent in all of Pep’s most favored players and overall philosophy. Does he have to adapt or will Pep adapt to the Algerian’s default attributes?
More than a glimmer of hope
It seems as though Pep has the touch of the ancient Greek king, Midas. Whatever he touches turns into gold. It’s difficult to find a player especially recruited by the Spaniard who hasn’t improved over time. When he has no plans with one, he makes that abundantly clear and ships them out as he did with Ivorian legend, Yaya Toure. The fact that he signed Riyad for so much money means he knows when and how the playmaker will aid the team’s progress. Looking at Bernardo Silva for example, the 24-year-old looked a misfit for the better part of the 2017/18 season but is now almost an indispensable member of the team, with the gaffer remarking that his team is made up of Bernardo and ten other players.
The start to life at City hasn’t been great for Riyad but it will most certainly get only better from here.