Without question, 2019/20 wasn’t Manchester City’s best campaign, considering the standards they had set in the two preceding campaigns under Pep Guardiola.
Having claimed the title with a record 100 points in 2018 and 98 points the year after, the Cityzens ended a disappointing 18 points behind relentless Liverpool last term, who finished just one point short of the Manchester giants’ haul in 17/18.
Curiously, while City scored 102 goals, only four from their record of 106 set by the Centurions, persistent lapses at the back undermined their title defence which was as good as over at the mid-point of the campaign.
They didn’t fare better in Europe, either, as their elimination by Olympique Lyon at the quarter-final was bitterly disappointing for fans and observers, as Pep ultimately bore much of the brunt of the criticism.
Elimination by Arsenal in the FA Cup semi-final didn’t sit right with critics who felt the club, yet again, failed to show their true quality for the umpteenth time in a volatile year.
Success in the League Cup, essentially the least of City’s priorities, feels like an age now. Despite a third-straight EFL Cup triumph and fourth in five years, last season certainly went down as one of Guardiola’s worst in his managerial career and probably similar to his underwhelming first season in 16/17.
What can Riyad Mahrez, now heading into his third season at the Etihad Stadium, aim to achieve this term as City look to return to the top?
The story of last season
He’d carried the confidence from Algeria’s 2019 Africa Cup of Nations success, became one the club’s important players for majority of the season, and was tipped to play a part in the club’s search for Champions League glory.
Indeed, he proved that prognosis right with a strong performance in a 2-1 win over Real Madrid at the Santiago Bernabeu, one of the Citizens’ best on the continent.
However, performances in the key FA Cup games vs Newcastle United and Arsenal post-lockdown led to suggestions that the Algeria winger wouldn’t be trusted in the reverse fixture against Los Blancos at the Etihad. This was the case as Phil Foden was preferred by Guardiola against Zinedine Zidane’s men.
With City facing elimination at the hands of Lyon in the next round, the wide attacker was introduced for Fernandinho just before the hour. Nevertheless, he couldn’t turn the game in the joint-favourites favour as their fragile defence cost them the tie.
While the season ended in ignominy for City, and probably in some way for Mahrez, the winger was probably Pep’s best player after PFA Player of the Year Kevin De Bruyne. He posted 20 goal contributions and created the joint-second highest big chances in the league.
Collectively, the year was probably a failure but the North African attacker had a brilliant individual season in Manchester.
Any transfer rumours?
None, so far. Although, it would have been interesting to see what might have surfaced had City completed the outrageous move for Barcelona great Lionel Messi.
With that move now dead in the water, this window at least, Mahrez is expected to stay at the Etihad.
One hope for 2020/21
"Riyad had a strong season last time and showed he was starting to fit well into Guardiola's system," said Goal's Manchester City correspondent Jonathan Smith. "Unfortunately, the season didn't go as well for the team and post-shutdown, the City boss went for a more pragmatic approach which left him slightly on the outside.
"However, is sure to be a key player again, particularly in such a tight schedule, and has shown why he was brought to the club with his match-winning abilities.
"The arrival of Ferran Torres and flexibility of Phil Foden means he faces increased pressure for a starting place in the big games," Smith concluded, "and he needs to take another step forward to show he deserves his place in crucial matches."
Despite missing out on important games at the backend of last season, the winger largely thrived in the preceding campaign. He was, behind De Bruyne, probably City’s most consistent player and would want to retain his important place in the side.
Thus, regardless of the omission in the big matches, it was a small sample size and he should get his opportunity to return to the Spaniard’s good books this .
With City, as a unit, unlikely to be as inconsistent as they were last term, Mahrez should theoretically aim to outdo last year’s 11 goals and nine assists in the league.
One big fear for 2020/21
Given Bernardo Silva is unlikely to be as underwhelming as he was last season and Phil Foden now becoming a prominent figure in Pep’s plans, the North African runs the risk of being on the fringes if performances aren’t up to scratch.
This scenario will remind him of his maiden season at the club where he couldn’t start consistently and felt like he was nothing but a rotational option in the squad, a status that changed last term regardless of the contrary evidence post-lockdown.
Goal's prediction for the season to come
While observers seem to make Liverpool and City this season’s title favourites, owing to the pair’s consistency in recent years and the presence of top managers in Jurgen Klopp and Pep respectively, last year’s runners-up still look somewhat short.
They don’t seem to have addressed their defensive problems at left-back, while central and attacking midfield may be an issue with David Silva no longer with the Citizens and Rodri still to convince at the base of the midfield.
There were also doubts about their mentality last term in games where they fell behind and failed to react to setbacks within games.
Also, the jury's still out on Gabriel Jesus becoming the striker City can truly rely on, with Sergio Aguero now showing signs of fading, not in his sharpness but rather fitness.
If most of the aforementioned issues remain unresolved, pundits may have to rethink their expectation that City are title favourites because ‘they shouldn’t be as bad as they were last season.’
For Mahrez, Leroy Sane’s injury and Bernardo’s drop off meant a more prominent role in the side last term. He may not be as fortunate this time around and may have to make do with being rotated in and out of the side as City navigate a tight schedule of games this season.