Riyad Mahrez stand-off gives Leicester boss Claude Puel headache

Riyad Mahrez has missed Leicester's last two matches after a move to Manchester City collapsed. (Reuters)
Updated 04 February 2018

Riyad Mahrez stand-off gives Leicester boss Claude Puel headache

LONDON: Riyad Mahrez’s career is at a crossroads. With his dream move to Manchester City potentially in ruins, Leicester City boss Claude Puel faces a major challenge to get his star player back and performing.
The Algerian winger was missing for the 1-1 draw against Swansea City at the King Power Stadium on Saturday, having not trained since the Premier League leaders walked away from the negotiating table due to Leicester’s astronomical demands.
Despite a second transfer request from the player in eight months, Leicester reportedly held out for a deal worth £80 million ($113 million, 91 million euros), with even City’s cash-rich Abu Dhabi owners unwilling to go beyond £60 million.
Mahrez, 26, is unhappy that Leicester were determined to secure such a huge profit on a player they bought for a reported £350,000 from French second-division side Le Havre in 2014 and who played a pivotal role in the club’s rise from the Championship to Premier League champions.
He was crowned players’ player of the year during Leicester’s remarkable title-winning campaign in 2015-16, scoring 17 Premier League goals, and then signed a four-year deal to help lead their Champions League charge.
Mahrez netted four times in the Champions League as Leicester again surpassed expectations as England’s last side standing before narrowly losing out 2-1 on aggregate to Atletico Madrid in the quarter-finals, proving he was no one-season wonder.
Adding to Mahrez’s ire is that other heroes of Leicester’s title-winning triumph — N’Golo Kante and Danny Drinkwater — have been allowed to leave for Chelsea with far less resistance.
And with City seemingly encouraged to make a move by injuries to Leroy Sane and Gabriel Jesus, there is no guarantee the runaway Premier League leaders will come calling again in the summer.
“I am fiercely ambitious and feel that now is the time to move on to a new experience,” Mahrez said at the end of last season as he tried to force his way out.
Instead, he has again led a Leicester revival this season under Puel following Craig Shakespeare’s sacking in October, scoring nine times in his past 20 outings.
Puel remains optimistic, saying Mahrez will return to the fold.
“He is our friend and I think all the staff and all the players will help him to come back with a good mentality and a positive attitude and to enjoy his football with his teammates,” he said.
“Riyad is a good player but he is a good man also. I respect him. It’s important to manage this with calm inside the club.”
Should Mahrez back down, his next appearance could come at the Etihad Stadium against City when Leicester travel to Manchester next Saturday.
A Mahrez performance reminiscent of the one he delivered when Leicester ran riot in a 3-1 win two years ago, propelling them toward the title, could go a long way toward convincing City he remains the man they want for next season.
“Everybody knows we were trying but we cannot afford, in this moment, this amount of what they are asking,” said City boss Pep Guardiola after Wednesday’s 3-0 win over West Bromwich Albion.
“We are going to see what happens in the summer.”
Guardiola named only six substitutes for Saturday’s clash at Burnley due to City’s mounting injury crisis, in a move some interpreted as a hint of his unhappiness about the club’s unwillingness to sign Mahrez.
Come the end of the season, Leicester’s hand may also finally be forced by the fact Mahrez will have two years left on his contract, the point at which many clubs choose to cash in before the value of their prized assets might depreciate.
Time will tell whether he gets another chance.


Free-scoring Salzburg pose serious threat to leaky Liverpool

Updated 10 December 2019

Free-scoring Salzburg pose serious threat to leaky Liverpool

  • Injury-hit Reds have consistently leaked goals despite streaking clear at the top of Premier League

LONDON: Liverpool travel to Salzburg on Tuesday needing to avoid defeat to the confident Austrian champions to guard against an embarrassing Champions League group stage exit for the holders.

Jurgen Klopp's men are used to getting through to the knockout stages the hard way. In each of the past two seasons they have needed home wins to secure a place in the last 16 before going on to make the final.

However, the specter of a free-scoring Salzburg, led by the Champions League's top scorer in Erlin Braut Haaland spells trouble for an injury-hit Liverpool backline that has consistently leaked goals this season despite streaking clear at the top of the Premier League.

The Reds' recorded a first clean sheet in 14 games in Saturday's 3-0 win at Bournemouth, but lost another center back as Dejan Lovren limped off in the first half.

Should the Croatian miss the trip to Austria, Joe Gomez will be Klopp's only fit partner for Virgil van Dijk in central defense.

Van Dijk narrowly missed out to Lionel Messi in the battle for the Ballon d'Or last week in recognition of the transformative effect he has had on Liverpool's fortunes over the past two years.

But even the towering Dutchman has been incapable of stopping the steady flow of goals against in recent months.

Injuries have meant there has been a constant rotation of Lovren, Gomez and Joel Matip alongside Van Dijk, while the attacking impetus offered by fullbacks Andy Robertson and Trent Alexander-Arnold leaves space in behind to be exploited.

Goalkeeper Alisson Becker also missed the first two months of the season due to a calf injury to further unsettle the backline.

The Brazilian is now back, but another injury to Fabinho has robbed the back four of the best player to protect them in the holding midfield role.

"I forgot how it feels, to be honest," said Klopp on finally ending the long wait for a clean sheet at the weekend.

"It's great, we should have them more often. It was the most-used word in the dressing room by the boys — "clean sheet, clean sheet, clean sheet."

"Obviously everybody was desperate for that, now we have it so let's have it more often.

"The next game where a clean sheet would be useful is already around the corner, against Salzburg on Tuesday."

That is easier said than done as Liverpool know from their first meeting with Jesse Marsch's men in October.

The hosts seemed to be cruising to another Anfield win in the Champions League as they raced into a 3-0 lead, but Salzburg hit back to level at 3-3 before Mohamed Salah's winner ensured Liverpool edged a seven-goal thriller.

Salzburg have scored 87 goals in 24 games in all competitions this season, 28 of which have come from Norwegian wonderkid Haaland in just 21 appearances.

The 19-year-old started on the bench when the sides met at Anfield due to injury, but came on to inspire the visitors' revival in the second half and scored one of his eight Champions League goals.

"He's not the only threat from Salzburg but he's a proper one," said Klopp of the danger posed by Haaland ahead of the sides' first clash.

Salzburg need to win to make the last 16 on their first appearance in the group stage in 25 years.

A point would be enough for Liverpool to progress, but they need to win to secure top spot in Group E ahead of Napoli.

Given Liverpool's paucity of clean sheets and Salzburg's thirst for goals, attack would appear to be the best form of defencse for the European champions.