Riyad Mahrez: How did the Fearful Flop Become a First-Team Starter?

In 2015-16, Riyad Mahrez won the PFA Player of the Year award after spearheading Leicester’s unexpected title triumph. After scoring 17 goals and chipping in with 11 assists, the Algerian piqued the interests of Manchester City and Manchester United with the former, eventually securing his services for around $85 million in 2018-2019. Mahrez endured a tricky start to life at the Etihad, but he’s since transformed his fortunes. But how did the winger break into Pep Guardiola’s team?   

The pressure of a big-money move 

At the time of Mahrez’s move from Leicester to Manchester City, the Algerian was the Citizens’ second most expensive signing of all-time behind only Kevin de Bruyne, according to Transfermarkt. With such a lofty price tag and having set such a high standard in the Foxes’ title-winning season, many expected the 27-year-old to hit the ground running in Manchester. Upon his arrival, Mahrez failed to dislodge Leroy Sane and Raheem Sterling in the starting team, while there was also competition for Bernardo Silva, who arrived from Monaco in 2016-17. 

In June 2020, Mahrez admitted that it was “difficult” to get into the team because other players were performing so well. Although he didn’t mirror his 2015-16 form, the Algerian contributed effectively in his opening campaigns at the Etihad. In his debut season for the Citizens, the 27-year-old played a direct role in 11 goals in 27 appearances. Mahrez improved that figure over the following seasons, registering a 20 goal involvement in 30 matches in 2019-20. 

Turning it around under Guardiola 

In many ways, Mahrez was a victim of Manchester City’s squad depth. On talent alone, he was always good enough to start for the reigning Premier League champions. However, his arrival seemingly elevated his teammates’ level through heightened competition for places.   

For example, in Mahrez’s first season at the Etihad, Sterling scored 17 goals and provided 10 assists. The Englishman followed that with 20 goals in the 2019-20 campaign. The 26-year-old’s form saw him becoming a regular starter for both club and country, and he’ll likely be a first-team player for Gareth Southgate in the European Championships. As of June 11th, England is –204 in Nigeria football betting pre-match markets to defeat the Czech Republic on match day three in Group D.   

Sane’s transfer to Bayern Munich in July 2020 opened the door for Mahrez to cement himself as a first-choice player under Guardiola. The Algerian started 23 Premier League games in 2020-21, while also featuring in the starting side in nine of the Citizens’ Champions League matches. It speaks volumes about Mahrez’s transformation at the Etihad that Guardiola trusted the 27-year-old to start both legs in the quarter-finals and semi-finals of the Champions League, as well as the all-English final against Chelsea. 

Triumphing where others failed 

When players appear down and out at Manchester City, they often struggle to alter their fortunes, especially under Guardiola. In years gone by, offensive players like Jesus Navas and Nolito have come and gone, failing to reach the heights in Manchester. Mahrez, however, is different. The former Leicester attacker has kept his focus, performed when given opportunities, and now finds himself in favor with the club’s Spanish manager.

WE SAID THIS: How do you think Riyad Mahrez is performing so far?