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Can snubbed Riyad Mahrez salvage maiden Manchester City season?

14:19 GMT 25/02/2019
Riyad Mahrez Manchester City 2018-19
The Algeria superstar hasn’t had the rub of the green in his opening campaign with the Citizens, but is it too late to turn things around?

Barring a long-term injury, disciplinary reasons or a steep decline in form, players who move clubs accompanied by an astronomical transfer fee typically play frequently at their new employers.

Particularly when the suitors have had to wait an extended period to get their man, it's normal to expect that the new recruit will get consistent playing time.

For Riyad Mahrez, however, who left Leicester City for Manchester City in a £60 million move in the summer, this has not been the case.

The North African is the club's record signing - and the most expensive African player ever - but the EFL Cup final on Sunday reaffirmed the fact that the 28-year-old sits firmly on the fringes of Pep Guardiola's squad.

Having first attempted to sign the wideman in last year’s winter window, the champions waited six months before finally seeing the deal through in the summer, but that hasn't translated to ample gametime for the winger.

In all fairness, the wideman’s unique situation is a consequence of the array of talent at City.

Any team that, more or less, has two available players for every position will definitely not be easy to break into – irrespective of the amount splurged on a fresh face.

Guardiola naturally selects players based on purely footballing reasons, and isn’t one to pick his sides only considering reputations and transfer fees, so Mahrez faced a tough task of displacing existing teammates.

The Algeria international came into a side that had also secured a record-breaking Premier League success, and was essentially fourth-choice in the wide positions behind the trio of Raheem Sterling, Leroy Sane and an improving Bernardo Silva.

Sterling and Sane were the principal starters in the wide positions for the rampant champions, scoring 18 and 10 goals respectively in the league, while recording double figures in assists with 11 and 15 respectively.

Silva, understandably, initially struggled in a new league after signing from Ligue 1 champions AS Monaco, and could only return six goals and four assists in his first year. His integration at the club wasn’t helped by the fact he had to fill in at two roles: in attacking midfield as well as on the wings as a wide playmaker.

Ostensibly, the acquisition of Leicester’s best player in 2016 principally meant City now had four wide options.

While an injury to Kevin De Bruyne and slight disciplinary measures imposed on Sane early on in the campaign saw Mahrez start in half of the defending champions’ first 20 games, his influence has waned in subsequent months.

Mahrez last started a league game for the defending champions in a 3-1 success at Southampton before the turn of the year, and hasn't featured in five of their last seven top-flight games, meaning he’s been mainly restricted to cup appearances since December.

In that time, he’s scored three times in five games, which has taken his goals total and assists for the season to 10 apiece. While those numbers aren’t bad for any player in his first campaign at a new club, whilst playing under considerably different tactics than he’s used to, it doesn’t compare favourably to his teammates.

His five goals and two assists in the league, which have come in just under 970 minutes, has seen him record a goal contribution every 138 minutes.

By contrast, Sterling (12 goals, nine assists), Sane (eight goals, nine assists) and Silva (five goals, six assists) have 21, 17 and 11 goal involvements coming in 1960, 1450 and 2075 minutes respectively in league football – a goal contribution every 93, 85 and 188 minutes for the trio.

Statistically, Mahrez delivers at a higher frequency than Silva, but the playmaker’s regular deployment in a deeper, central midfield role contorts the statistics.

Mahrez’s lack of recent match action hasn’t been helped by the fact he’s mainly effective in one position, as opposed to colleagues out wide who can fulfill multiple roles. Sterling is capable of playing on either flank, as is Sane, who admittedly hasn’t been deployed at a stretch on the right flank this season.

Trying to overcompensate when game time is limited is a norm for players affected, and it was no surprise to see the Algerian trying too hard in City’s FA Cup fifth round fixture at Newport County.

Mahrez did get the last of a quartet of goals in the 4-1 win, but his general performance throughout the encounter was largely frustrating, evidenced by the incessant individualism on show at Rodney Parade.

It was telling that Guardiola resisted the temptation to throw the wideman into Sunday's tense Carabao Cup Final against a wounded Chelsea at Wembley.

Sunday's final was an entirely different contest to the 6-0 demolition by the Citizens at the Etihad Stadium a fortnight ago, although with the duo deadlocked at 0-0 during the 90 minutes, and even when an extra substitute was permitted in extra time, the Spanish coach didn't give Mahrez any gametime.

The caveat, perhaps, is that two of Guardiola's substitutions were enforced by injury, but it cannot be overlooked that this is another major game where Mahrez has been thoroughly overlooked.

The North African did win his first trophy for the club, albeit not in the circumstances that he would surely have been hoping for.

Fortunately for Mahrez, City still have their sights set on three more pieces of silverware between now and the summer. He ought to have ample opportunity to salvage what is proving to be a disappointing maiden campaign, and hopefully play his part in further successes to come.