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.”


Sterling, Mbappe light up Champions League with hat-tricks while Spurs claim key win

Updated 23 October 2019

Sterling, Mbappe light up Champions League with hat-tricks while Spurs claim key win

  • Compared to Sterling, Mbappe took a sluggish 22 minutes to score his three goals

PARIS: Raheem Sterling and Kylian Mbappe both scored second-half hat-tricks in UEFA Champions League action on Tuesday as Manchester City, Paris Saint-Germain and Tottenham Hotspur all recorded big victories.
Juventus, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich labored to wins on a night which brought 30 goals in eight games, a third of which were scored by Premier League clubs.
Sterling’s three goals came 11 minutes apart in the second half as Pep Guardiola’s City thumped Atalanta 5-1 at the Etihad Stadium to maintain their perfect record in Group C.
The Italians had earlier taken the lead from Ruslan Malinovskyi’s 28th-minute penalty, but they were soon overrun and remain without a point in their debut Champions League campaign.
Sergio Aguero equalized from a Sterling assist and the Argentine scored a penalty to put City ahead before the break. Sterling then took over, although City finished with 10 men as Phil Foden was sent off late on.
“I should have had four. Riyad Mahrez put me through and I was looking to put one on a plate for him. But I went through and should have finished it,” Sterling admitted to BT Sport.
City’s will seal a place in the last 16 if they win away to Atalanta next, as nearest rivals Shakhtar Donetsk and Dinamo Zagreb played out a 2-2 draw in Ukraine earlier.
Yevhen Konoplyanka and Brazilian substitute Dodo netted for Shakhtar, with Dinamo’s goals coming in between from Dani Olmo and a Mislav Orsic penalty.
Compared to Sterling, Mbappe took a sluggish 22 minutes to score his three goals in PSG’s 5-0 romp away to former European Cup runners-up Club Brugge in Belgium in Group A.
Mauro Icardi scored twice for the French champions, who were without the injured Neymar but had Angel Di Maria in exceptional form — the Argentine set up four goals.
According to sports statisticians Opta, the last player to come off the bench and score a hat-trick in the Champions League was Spaniard Joseba Llorente for Villarreal in 2008.
“I wanted to start and I thought I was going to start, but the coach made his choice and I had to accept it. I also wanted to show that it’s difficult to get by without me,” Mbappe told French broadcaster RMC Sport.
PSG have a maximum nine points, are yet to concede a goal in Europe this season and will be through to the last 16 with a win at home to Club next month.
Below them, Real Madrid are up to second after claiming their first win in Europe this season. Eden Hazard set up Toni Kroos for a first-half strike that handed them a 1-0 victory over Galatasaray in Istanbul.
Meanwhile, there was a welcome win for Mauricio Pochettino’s Tottenham, who crushed Red Star Belgrade 5-0 in north London, three weeks on from their 7-2 humiliation at the hands of Bayern Munich at the same venue.
Captain Harry Kane scored twice for Spurs either side of a Son Heung-min brace and an Erik Lamela goal as they moved up to second place in Group B on four points.
“We know we have had a tough run of results and that was the perfect way to respond,” said Kane.
They remain five points behind group leaders Bayern Munich, for whom Robert Lewandowski bagged two in a 3-2 win at Olympiakos that maintained their perfect record.
The Pole has 18 goals this season and 58 career Champions League goals — only Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi, Raul and Karim Benzema have more.
Youssef El Arabi gave Olympiakos the lead, but Lewandowski’s brace either side of half-time changed the game and Corentin Tolisso fired in a magnificent third before Guilherme pulled one back.
In Turin, Juventus needed a late Paulo Dybala pair to come from behind and beat Lokomotiv Moscow 2-1 in Group D.
Aleksei Miranchuk gave the Russians the lead on the half-hour and it took a stunning strike by Dybala to bring the Italian champions back level with 13 minutes left.
Moments later the same player scored from the follow-up after Alex Sandro’s shot was saved.
Juve are level atop Group D on seven points with Atletico Madrid, who edged out Bayer Leverkusen 1-0 thanks to Alvaro Morata’s 78th-minute header.