Courtesy of two goals in the first half-hour by Bernardo Silva and Sergio Aguero in the West London sunshine, Pep Guardiola saw his Manchester City side cruise against a helpless Fulham side at Craven Cottage last Saturday.
With the advantage looking unassailable, and a glut of games on the horizon, the expected line of action was to give the fringe players reasonable game time.
Expectedly, the changes came.
Although enforced, Gabriel Jesus was introduced for Sergio Aguero before the hour, a returning Fernandinho replaced Kevin De Bruyne with a quarter of the game remaining.
Riyad Mahrez was only introduced for Raheem Sterling with two minutes of normal time to play!
The decision to introduce the Algerian so late into the game raised age-old questions regarding how much he’s valued in the blue half of Manchester.
On Riyad Mahrez’s need to keep putting in the hard yards at Man City after yesterday’s cup final snub. https://t.co/LiElHc58Lo— Oluwaseye Omidiora (@theReal_SeyE) February 25, 2019
Previously, the inquiries came to a head after the League Cup final win over Chelsea in February.
In that game, Mahrez was rooted to the bench for 120 minutes, irrespective of the fact that both sides were granted an extra substitution at the commencement of extra time.
While the near snub at Craven Cottage has threatened to open a can of worms, it really may all be preposterous to fixate on his late introduction given recent events.
Prior to the Citizens’ encounter with the Cottagers, the former Leicester City man had got 253 minutes of gametime from a possible 450. It's a clear improvement when you consider he only played a handful of times in the weeks leading up to the Carabao Cup final.
By contrast, including the Fulham game, Raheem Sterling has had 400 minutes of game time, while Bernardo Silva has accumulated 483 minutes of match action.
Last Saturday doesn’t change anything as regards Pep fulfilling his promise of giving Mahrez ample time on the pitch after leaving him out for a period after the turn of the year.
Given City are on course for an unprecedented quadruple, the Spaniard has gone on the record to claim every member of the side will play a part in the club’s quest to make history.
"It's the only way because they are going to play – everybody. If we need 10 or 15 minutes it must be the best possible. We are here so far because of everybody, not just 11, 12 or 13 players.
"Everybody makes their own contribution and it has been massive.
"It's crazy, the fixtures in April. That's why you need everybody."
The former PFA Player of the Year was brought into the side for the Blues’ 2-0 win against Cardiff City on Wednesday night, and didn’t disappoint.
Even though he neither scored nor assisted, the wideman kept the Bluebirds defence on its toes all game with the silkiness of his feet, and arguably outdid Leroy Sane, who scored.
Mahrez created a few chances, hit the woodwork and was unlucky not to win a penalty when Jon Moss failed to spot a clear trip just inside the box.
In hindsight, given Sterling played all but stoppage time against Fulham and was totally rested in midweek, the decision to keep Mahrez - who played the entire game against Neil Warnock’s side - fresh against the London side kills the conspiracy theories.
It took his total number of minutes since the cup success to 343, more than Sane’s (320) and just lower than Sterling’s (400).
Only Bernardo, who has had almost 500 minutes of game time under his belt, really trumps Mahrez.
Whether the Algeria international’s performance was enough to push him into the reckoning for a start in their FA Cup semi-final clash with Brighton & Hove Albion on Saturday, however, remains to be seen.
With Sterling given a breather, logic suggests he’ll start against Chris Hughton’s team. Bernardo was similarly rested, and the undroppable playmaker definitely features at Wembley Stadium save for a last-minute injury.
However, his versatility, which makes him an option in attacking midfield, gives Mahrez a glimmer of hope of featuring against Brighton.
While Kevin De Bruyne’s magnificent performance against Neil Warnock’s charges makes him a natural pick in midfield - which puts Mahrez in danger, as Bernardo will consequently occupy that wide berth - the fact the Belgian played 165 minutes of football in their last two games might see him get a breather.
It’s often said to not look too far ahead and ‘take it game by game’, but with next week's Champions League quarter-final first-leg against Tottenham Hotspur on the horizon this coming Tuesday, Guardiola might select his team against the Seagulls with that encounter in mind.
For Mahrez, it’s been a mixed maiden campaign which could unfortunately be remembered for his penalty miss against Liverpool at Anfield, especially if the Reds go on to claim the Premier League title.
All he can do now is focus on the future and the part he can play in the Citizens’ hunt for the quadruple.
Seems cruel to put it this way but, at season's end, the Premier League title race could come down to Riyad Mahrez's missed penalty at Anfield in October.— Solace Chukwu (@TheOddSolace) February 10, 2019
However, failure to play a significant part in either of the next two fixtures will see rumours of the winger not having the complete trust of Guardiola re-emerge.