In absolutely scintillating form this season for Manchester City, Riyad Mahrez’s been a force to be reckoned with throughout their fantastic campaign so far.
Having bagged eight goals in his last 10 matches, the gifted Algerian international has now racked up 21 goals this term, which is the first time he’s broken the 20 goal mark during his time in England that began back in 2016 with Leicester City. “Obviously Pep has a big influence on me, on us (as a team) and made me improve a lot with my football. That’s why he’s one of the best managers,” he said.
“I don’t know if I’m a great goal-scorer, but I’m trying to help the team as much as I can every game. This season I’m more efficient, but it’s because of the work we’re doing in training.”
Confident and right on top of his game at present, it’s been enthralling watching him weave his magic and continue improving his craft. “Riyad was the best player when they won the league at Leicester — the quality belongs to them. I just try, as a manager, to make them feel together and the movements they do together can increase their abilities,” Pep Guardiola explained.
Scoring a wide range of goals, predominantly with his wand of a left foot, this has been an integral string to his bow. Aside from scoring his trademark placed finishes after opening up his body expertly, he’s also slotted home some crafty dinks, clinical 1v1 finishes, crisp tap ins and some powered efforts from range.
Coming on in leaps and bounds with his finishing, his clinical, accurate, composed and now deadly precision when in range has enhanced his threat massively in the final third. It seems the days of him being a little wasteful in recent years are in the rear vision mirror now.
A magician with the ball at his feet, this has been crucial towards him gaining separation prior to getting his shots off. Unpredictable and executing his skills and changes of pace and direction with whirring speed, defenders are often too late to react despite having an idea of what he might do next.
Elite with his first touch and control, this gives him the platform to immediately get at foes and unbalance them with his wizardry. Velcro like with his touches and boasting a catalogue of amazing feints, shimmies, turns and famous stepovers, Mahrez can beat opponents or find room to pass or shoot with ease.
The fact he regularly receives possession facing forwards means he can instantly get driving at adversaries, removing the time it takes to turn. A real nightmare for defenders to deal with 1v1, he certainly puts his qualitative superiority to good use.
As a result, opponents will often commit an extra marker to attempt to stop him, which unbalances their defensive shape, thus offering him a chance to exploit the newly created space by finding a free man directly or courtesy of a third man combination.
Good at winning fouls due to his mastery here, defenders frequently resort to bringing him down, unable to deal with the elusive winger, who can beat his enemies in tight zones and in open spaces, plus on the outside and when cutting inside in trademark style.
Undoubtedly one of the premier dribblers in world football, the numbers back this up too, for he’s in the top 8% for progressive carries per 90 (8.79) among players in his position across Europe’s top five leagues.
Fleet of foot and mind, the way he processes situations more efficiently now has seen him be more incisive with his passing too. Forever on the lookout to play progressive passes to oblige runners in behind, into the box and down the channels, plus at engaging in intricate combination play to destabilise backlines, he blends vision and execution brilliantly.
So adept at firing in crosses and cutbacks from wide or in the half spaces, these have been a fine source of impetus for City. Tailoring his deliveries nicely and quick to assess his options, Mahrez knows if he needs to strike the ball with power, finesse, loft, whip or curl.
The same applies to his through balls, with him striking these with precision and accuracy to feed runners and dismantle defensive units. Weighting his passes ideally for the most part and so awake to the movement of his colleagues, it’s been a joy to watch him set up teammates.
A master at using his body and head to disguise passes, these importantly throw defenders off too, allowing colleagues to get the jump on unbalanced foes.
Ranking 12th in the Premier League for assists p90 (0.29) and 22nd for crosses p90 (3.65), his creativity and imagination has been another important weapon in his arsenal.
Meanwhile, when it comes to his movement and positioning, this helps facilitate so much of his good work. Typically situated high and wide against the touchline so he can receive quick switches of play and be isolated against his marker, Mahrez relishes these instances to wreak havoc.
Seeing as City often populate the left initially, which causes the opposition to shift across, before then switching to Mahrez on the right, Guardiola has instilled the overload to isolate principle highly successfully onto his players.
From this base, the former Le Havre starlet is able to also stretch backlines horizontally and vertically, plus draw multi markers that crucially manufactures space for a free man to explore. By successfully pinning and drawing markers out of shape, his presence is also valuable in terms of instigating third man moves, another of Guardiola’s key tenets.
The dangerous out-to-in blindside runs Mahrez embarks on frequently have amplified his menace from his wing role, for he’s able to gain a dynamic advantage over his more stationary, ball watching markers.
Instinctive within the confines of the box and adapting his runs depending on the location of the ball holder and defence, he excels at finding room to be an option while outfoxing his tracker to gain separation to fire off a shot.
Furthermore, how he helps manufacture strategic overloads in wide areas is integral towards City progressing down the flanks. The images below offer some good examples of his prowess here.
Some extra numbers of note come from how he ranks fourth in the PL for shots (3.43 p90), equal fifth for goals (10), sixth for XG (0.65 p90) and eighth for touches inside the box (5.48 p90).
Playing in a system that allows him to get the best out of himself and have such a devastating impact, Guardiola deserves immense praise for helping him take his game to another level.
Never one to let his troops rest on their laurels, the Spanish genius believes Mahrez can keep elevating his game. “He has scored a lot of goals, penalties, assists and everything and a part of that is the quality he has to read the game perfectly. When he has to attack he must give extra passes,” Guardiola asserted. “But I would not say it is his best season because he has played in the Premier League at a high level for many years.
“Last season he was exceptional. He was so important in the last quarter of the season and playing really well. I try to push him a lot. We struggle together because I know the quality that he has.”
With City currently sitting atop the league and into the quarter-finals of the Champions League and the FA Cup, expect Mahrez, who gives his team a real X-Factor offensively, to continue to be a force to be reckoned with in their quest for glory.