Just how good is Riyad Mahrez ?
The Algeria international has been in English football for three and a half years, yet there are still doubts about his true level after Leicester City’s remarkable Premier League-winning campaign was followed up by last year’s struggle.
Perhaps the North African can still enjoy the kind of the career that has him celebrated as one of the continent’s all-time greats, but his next move—if there is one at all—will be critical.
The story of last season
In the 2015-16 season, Mahrez was simply outstanding as he delivered a series of inspirational performances to send Leicester to a miraculous Premier League title.
After sparkling in patches under Nigel Pearson the season before—scoring four—he proceeded to net 17 in 37, contributing a further 11 assists under Claudio Ranieri.
As well as the EPL crown, Mahrez also won the PFA Players’ Player of the Year and the PFA Fans’ Player of the Year awards, and it was always going to be tricky for him to sustain that remarkable form again for a second campaign.
In fact, not only did he fail to replicate that wonderful campaign, but he fell well short.
Mahrez managed only six goals and three assists in the league, with four of those decisive contributions coming after Ranieri’s departure.
It was a testing season for all of Leicester’s players after their toil under the Italian coach, but even so, it was a worrying drop-off for the former Le Havre man.
What could happen this window?
A year ago, Mahrez was one of the hot topics during the transfer window, and was expected to be one of the key protagonists during the summer, with Arsenal and Barcelona both understood to be keen on his signature.
Expectedly, there’s a lot less fervour surrounding the player this season following his failure to even come close to delivering on the highs of 2015-16.
The doubts about whether Mahrez is the real deal or a one-hit wonder, it seems, are shared by his admirers as well as the transfer activity has been much more muted this time around.
Nonetheless, Arsenal still appear to be keen on the attacker’s signature, with sources in Italy revealing at the weekend that the deal will be closed this week.
However, it remains to be seen whether the reports are to be believed, particularly as a mooted fee of upwards of £30 million would be heavy considering the club’s recent interest in Kylian Mbappe, Thomas Lemar and Alexandre Lacazette.
What to expect next season
Whether Mahrez stays at Leicester or moves to Arsenal or elsewhere, his challenge next season will be come as close as possible to emulating the quality of his performances during the title-winning campaign.
Should he remain, he will have to find his place within the new Foxes side as they are modelled to the taste of new boss Craig Shakespeare, who will surely be looking to stamp his mark on the side during his first transfer window.
As the East Midlanders slip beneath the radar again—as they had begun to be during the second half of last term—then the Fennec will likely begin to have the kind of space and the kind of openings in which he can thrive.
Should he switch to Arsenal, the immediate challenge will be whether the forward can find a place for himself, particularly considering Arsene Wenger’s switch to a 3-4-2-1 formation.
Similarly, there’s the issue of whether he could shine at a bigger club and on a grander stage. While Mahrez shone in the Champions League, he was worryingly neutralised in the Premier League, and is yet to prove that he can find another gear.