Leicester are leading Sunderland 1-0 in their 2015-16 English Premier League opener at the King Power Stadium and are troubling the visitors with some dynamic football.
As the clock ticks away, Foxes’ right-back Marc Albrighton swings in an enterprising cross in the 18th minute with two Sunderland defenders covering Riyad Mahrez with sentinel like focus.
With the ball zooming in, Mahrez with all the canniness of a classic goal-poacher somehow shadows his way between the two defenders, gets a faint touch to it and then…
Leicester are 2-0 up thanks to some vintage footballing ability displayed by Mahrez thus sending the home fans in raptures.
The goal sends their confidence sky-rocketing which means the Foxes go on to play some enterprising football and win 4-2 at the final whistle.
Ladies and Gentlemen…this is Riyad Mahrez for you!
His first club was amateur French club Quimper (before he turned pro in 2010-11) for whom he played a solitary season (2009–10) and scored a lone goal in 27 appearances.
The following season Mahrez’s professional career began at Le Havre’s second-team in Ligue 2, where he made a name for himself by scoring 24 goals in 60 appearances spanning over three seasons.
Though Mahrez did not exactly sparkle after joining the main Le Havre side in Ligue 1 (he scored a mere ten goals in 60 appearances) still his move to Leicester in 2013-14 was probably the start of something new.
Better than Wayne Rooney?
At 24, Mahrez still has some way to go before establishing himself as a world-class player which he undoubtedly can given he plays his best football at Leicester.
The Algerian has suddenly burst to life with the Foxes given the fact that in his first two seasons with the club he could manage a mere 7 goals in 49 combined appearances.
Despite Leicester doing well to avoid the drop in 2014-15 (they finished 14th after getting promoted the previous season), Mahrez did not exactly scorch scoring charts and only managed four goals in 30 appearances.
And it will be fool-hardy to even term him better than Manchester United star Wayne Rooney who has tons of club-level experience and achievements under his belt compared to the Algerian.
The Claudio Ranieri factor?
So what may be the reason behind Mahrez’s sudden transformation?
From a virtually unknown name the Algerian suddenly finds himself in the fear list for most opposition manager’s post his recent exploits.
Even his goal in Leicester’s 2-1 win against West Ham United at Upton Park was a superb effort with Albrighton once again having a hand in the assist.
Of course, though scoring against Sunderland and West Ham will definitely not merit Mahrez the Ball on D’Or, still his dynamic and exciting game play in both games has been applauded well by both fans and critics alike.
And is new manager Ranieri the catalyst behind Mahrez’s sudden transformation?
The Italian is known to render out the best from his players (remember his Chelsea side of the early 2000s?) and may have had a huge role to play in lifting Mahrez from mediocrity.
Though three goals in two games is way too early to decide as to whether Mahrez will fire Leicester to a European spot, still Ranieri’s influence may play a telling role as to how the Algerian performs for the rest of the season.
Leicester’s next opponents are Tottenham Hotspur (at the King Power on 22 August) a side which is definitely much superior to Sunderland and West Ham.
It will be interesting to see as to how Mahrez will perform against Spurs whose defence consists of the likes of Jan Verthongen and Kyle Walker, no mugs in this level of football.
Also after playing in a central role (against Sunderland) and later shifting to his favored right-wing position (against West Ham), the question arises as to whether the Algerian should be played in a more laid-back or attacking position.
Irrespective of his position, Mahrez will be expected to stand up and deliver against Spurs and a win will in all probability set tone for the Foxes’ dreamy European ambitions.
Mr. Rooney, are you listening? Leicester have a brand new version of the older you!