Riyad Mahrez – Patiently waiting for the move he deserves

‘MAHR CRASH’ read The Sun’s headline at the end of last season above an article describing the ‘stunning decline’ of the previous year’s PFA Player of the Year.

It’s unlikely one documenting his resurgence will be published soon.

In a sport where eye-catching headlines and heroic narratives are everything, Riyad Mahrez’s rejuvenation has slipped under the radar somewhat.

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Mahrez is not a new face, he’s not leading his club to any trophies or landmarks, nor has he returned to his boyhood club.

However, his performances have nearly returned to the level that saw him drive Leicester City to the title, but this time in more testing circumstances.

Mahrez has bounced back from the set back the entire Leicester squad suffered last season to cement himself as one of the best creative players in the league.

What’s more, all of this has been at a mid-table side.

N’golo Kante and Danny Drinkwater got their moves, Jamie Vardy turned his chance down, but arguably the most instrumental of the quartet is still waiting for his.

Clubs were unwilling to meet the £45 million price-tag in the summer, which in hindsight looks a bargain.

Since then his attitude has been exemplary, in stark contrast to some of his Premier League colleagues.

Not a particularly outspoken or brattish individual, Mahrez has put his head down to consistently deliver phenomenal performances.

The numbers speak for themselves; with just over half the season gone, Mahrez has a combined 17 goals and assists.

Raheem Sterling and Mohammad Salah are the only midfielders in the league with a better output, and are rightly being touted as contenders for Player of the Year.

Predominantly playing on the right of a four-man midfield, with significantly more defensive responsibilities than his creative counterparts in the league, Mahrez has had a better final product than Christian Eriksen, Alexis Sanchez and David Silva.

This is some achievement, especially considering this is all for eighth placed Leicester City.

Mahrez isn’t afforded the same time and space on the ball, nor the same service as those previously mentioned, but is still registering better numbers.

Mahrez’s downturn in form last year can partly be attributed to problems any player bursting onto the scene has to face.

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With personal accolades come increased pressure and more importantly scrutiny and analysis from defences.

Football is a constantly evolving game, and everyone – coaches, players, scouts – have to adapt in order to stay ahead, with the exception of Arjen Robben.

It’s in part the desire and ability to improve and adapt your game that produces quality players.

Mahrez is a player that loves to cut inside onto his left, and defenders cottoned onto that.

This is shown perfectly with his goal against Chelsea in 2015 which famously signalled the end for Mourinho.

Mahrez toys with Azpilicueta on the by-line with only one thing on his mind, shifting the ball onto his left foot to get a shot away.

He actually feints twice to do this, before finding enough space to fire it past Courtois at the third attempt.

Being the best player of the season means people pay attention, and focus more resources on combatting the threat.

With defenders doubling up on him now and showing him onto his left foot, Mahrez has had to expand his game to remain a threat.

He is now more comfortable taking his opponent on his right side, and often drifts into the middle of the pitch to offer the unpredictability defenders loathe.

The recent rumours linking Mahrez with a move to Liverpool seem to have cooled for now, but if it isn’t in this window, he will surely get his opportunity in the next.

A move to a top six club would afford him even more time and space on the ball, as defences would have to counter numerous attacking threats.

The statistics show he has registered fewer shots than the likes of Philippe Coutinho, Eriksen and Sanchez this season, and the prospect of functioning in an attacking trio alongside a higher calibre of player would only raise his goal threat.

With transfer fees spiralling upwards at an alarming rate, it would be a surprise to see Mahrez part for anything less than £50 million.

He has had a hand in 50% of Leicester’s goals this season, statistically making him more valuable to his side than Harry Kane and Mohamed Salah.

He has shown commendable loyalty to Leicester since joining them in the second tier, but neutrals can only hope that his refusal to orchestrate a move by any means necessary does not impede his chances of showcasing his full potential at a top six club.

The Author

Felix Tasker

Freelance football journalist - @boxtoboxfootbal and @bpfootball

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