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.”

‘Fight Island’ concept debuts in Abu Dhabi on Sunday

Updated 11 July 2020

‘Fight Island’ concept debuts in Abu Dhabi on Sunday

  • Plan to be unveiled on Sunday with the staging of the 13-fight UFC 251 event on Abu Dhabi’s Yas Island

DUBAI: When mixed martial arts supremo Dana White first floated his “Fight Island” concept, with its echoes of the Bruce Lee blockbuster “Enter the Dragon” where fighters were drawn into combat at a private getaway, eyebrows were raised.

“‘Fight Island’ is real. It’s a real thing,” said the Ultimate Fighting Championship boss when he announced the plan in April. “The infrastructure’s being built right now, and that’s really going to happen.”

White’s vision will be unveiled on Sunday with the staging of the 13-fight UFC 251 event on Abu Dhabi’s Yas Island.

The event will be headlined by a welterweight world title encounter between the Nigerian-American champion Kamaru Usman and Cuban-American challenger Jorge Masvidal.

It’s one of four “Fight Island” cards to be staged without an audience inside an arena on the resort and entertainment island throughout July, kicking off with three world title bouts and a title challenge eliminator.

Usman said during a virtual media event that he had been impressed by what he’d seen since arriving in the UAE on Thursday.

“I’m grateful for everything that’s been done,” said Usman, gunning for the second defense of his title. “All the precautions have been taken. After I go out there on Saturday and get my hand raised I’ll be glad to be heading home COVID-free.”

The UFC has made the move to Abu Dhabi from its Las Vegas base in an effort to isolate its fighters during the coronavirus pandemic.

Safety has been a major motivator, as has the promoter’s need to keep staging events — and collecting revenue — during a crisis that has shut down or forced massive overhauls to the staging of the world’s major sporting events.

Strict lockdown measures have been imposed on athletes, their entourages, officials, staff and media for the duration of their stay on Yas Island, on a site that has been completely sealed off until the event concludes on July 26.

Tests were taken before people arrived — initial headliner Gilbert Burns of Brazil failed, and stayed home, Masvidal’s coach Mike Brown suffered the same fate — and after landing there has been more testing, and 48 hours in-room quarantine.

“We were able to lock away with some mats and pads in our room and keep training as much as we could,” said Russian welterweight Muslim Salikhov, who fights Brazil’s Elizeu Zaleski dos Santos in Sunday’s preliminaries.

“The main thing everyone is saying is that we are here, and we are ready to fight because that’s what we do for a living.”

Abu Dhabi’s executive director of tourism and marketing, Ali Al-Shaiba, said protocols were stringent in the expansive “safe zone,” patrolled by police and expected to house around 2,000 people for the duration of the month-long event. Staff will be tested every 72 hours.