Mahrez revival provides fresh impetus for Man City

Manchester City’s Riyad Mahrez celebrates scoring a goal from a free kick during a recent match. (Reuters)
Updated 06 October 2019

Mahrez revival provides fresh impetus for Man City

  • He’s (Riyad Mahrez) quality. Perhaps the only thing he has to improve is to be more relaxed when he doesn’t play. Only that. The rest is top, says Pep Guardiola

MANCHESTER: Riyad Mahrez is finally back to his best after a frustrating debut season with Manchester City and the Premier League champions are reaping the rewards as they fight to keep pace with title rivals Liverpool.

When Pep Guardiola’s side host Wolves on Sunday without the injured Kevin De Bruyne, Algeria winger Mahrez will be ready to shoulder the burden of driving City toward another priceless victory.

It is a far cry from Mahrez’s first few months at the Etihad Stadium, when his then club-record £60 million ($74 million) switch from Leicester was in danger of becoming a nightmare.

Unable to recapture the form that won him the PFA player of the year award for his instrumental role in Leicester’s 2016 Premier League title triumph, Mahrez cut a miserable figure.

It did not help that the superb form of Raheem Sterling and Bernardo Silva stopped Mahrez from garnering enough playing time to recover his rhythm.

Guardiola has since hinted that Mahrez became unhappy at his lack of action and let it affect his performances.

“He’s quality. Perhaps the only thing he has to improve is to be more relaxed when he doesn’t play. Only that. The rest is top,” Guardiola said.

Mahrez’s nadir came at Liverpool last October when he blazed a late penalty high over the bar to rob City of a win over their main challengers.

But Guardiola remained confident Mahrez would eventually turn the tide.

A defining moment came on the final day of the Premier League season when he was included in the starting lineup for the must-win clash at Brighton.

Guardiola’s faith in Mahrez was rewarded when his blistering second-half strike opened up a 3-1 lead that eased City’s nerves as they went on to lift the trophy.

Mahrez started again a week later when City thrashed Watford in the FA Cup final to complete the domestic treble and he has not looked back since.

With his morale on the mend, the 28-year-old captained Algeria to glory in the Africa Cup of Nations in July and has carried that form into this season.

When the Cup of Nations ended, City were already one game into their pre-season tour of Asia, meaning Mahrez had little respite from competitive action before the Premier League resumed.

But he was determined to stay in Guardiola’s plans and impressed his boss by refusing the option of an extended summer break.

“I didn’t have much holidays but that is what I wanted, because I wanted to be ready straight away. I am happy but I have to keep going,” Mahrez said.

While he was already a believer in Mahrez’s quality, Guardiola pinpoints the winger’s uplifting experience with Algeria as a transformative moment.

“I think the Africa Cup made him believe how good he can be. He knows it but I think it helps to win this kind of trophy for Algeria, for his country,” he said.

“It was so important for him. From the beginning he arrived with an incredible mentality, positive and the way he plays. He has something special.”

Selected for the Premier League season opener at West Ham, Mahrez has seized his chance, playing with the swagger and intelligence that were the hallmarks of his best days at Leicester.

He has appeared in 10 of City’s 11 games in all competitions, scoring three times — including a superb free-kick in last weekend’s win at Everton — and providing seven assists.

“All this season he has been playing outstandingly” Guardiola said.

“He is an exceptional player. I’m happy for him because he’s playing at an incredible level.”

Diriyah Tennis Cup serves up top-class fare

Updated 13 December 2019

Diriyah Tennis Cup serves up top-class fare

  • Day one of the three-day tournament saw Fognini, Monfils, Medvedev and Goffin through to the semi-finals

RIYADH: A new chapter was written today in Saudi Arabia’s sporting history as the first international tennis matches took place as part of the epic month of Diriyah Season.

The Diriyah Tennis Cup presented by Saudi Aramco will certainly go down in history as eight of the world’s best tennis stars met in the Diriyah Arena for the first-ever international tournament played in the Kingdom. 

The event also goes down in tennis history as not only the first in Saudi Arabia, but also one of the first to use Hawk-Eye Live technology. Replacing the need for line judges and providing more accuracy, Hawk-Eye Live sends visual and audio cues to the chair umpire and off-court monitors within a tenth of a second of a ball bouncing, to show faults and out of bounds shots without relying on the naked eye.

The first day as part of a three-day tournament saw all eight players in action in the opening matches. First up on court was Italian and world number 12 Fabio Fognini taking on American John Isner world number 19 and holder of the third fastest serve of all time in Men’s Tennis. Although both players will be written into the Kingdom’s history books, it was Fognini who was the record breaker as he delivered the first international serve and match win ever recorded, 7-6 6-4. 

Speaking after his win, Fabio Fognini said: “I won the first game of the competition, it’s nice. It’s something I will remember for sure and the people will remember as it is the first year we play here. I know they want to do something more [grassroots tennis], especially to improve tennis in this country so I’m happy.”

Commenting after the historic match, John Isner also added: “Very unique to be here and be part of this. I never thought I’d be here playing in Saudi Arabia. Very grateful and happy to be here. The ball kids did great tonight, fantastic job.”

Second up on the Diriyah Arena court was Swiss Stan Wawrinka, the world’s number 16, against Frenchman Gael Monfils the world’s number 10. Monfils took the win in straight sets 6-3 6-3. Monfils rallied the crowd by encouraging them to cheer and danced after some of his winning shots.

“So far it’s great. The offering they have here for us to perform is incredible. The court is one of the best…it’s quite nice. The people are very nice. I feel very good.” said Monfils.

Daniil Medvedev of Russia and Jan-Lennard Struff of Germany met in the third match of the evening. Medvedev made light work of Struff to take the win 6-3 6-1 and advance to the semi-finals.

Speaking after his win, Medvedev commented: “Was a great match. It’s never easy like this, after the end of the season, holidays and in the middle of pre-season to know how you are playing at this moment – are you strong or not? Today was a great match, beating Jan so easy is a great achievement because he’s a great player so I am really happy. The atmosphere was also really good and warm.”

In the final match of the night, Belgian’s David Goffin rallied with Lucas Pouille of France. Goffin took the final place in tomorrow night’s semi-finals beating Pouille 6-2 6-4.

After the match, Goffin commented: “Super organisation – the stadium is very nice. First time for me playing in Saudi, it’s a great atmosphere. I think for the people tonight it was something to see, professional tennis matches here. I think it was great for us and them as well. It’s a nice court and stadium – it could be a very nice center court in a big tournament.”

Today’s results will see Fognini of Italy meet Monfils of France in semi-final 1 and Medvedev of Russia will take on Goffin of Belgium on Friday 13th December. The remaining four players will still continue to play as part of the Consolation Bracket. The Diriyah Tennis Cup will conclude with the final on Saturday 14th December.