When Manchester City forked out £60million to sign Riyad Mahrez from Leicester City in the summer, the move was viewed by many as evidence of the Premier League champions’ excess; they were, it was suggested, spending an exorbitant fee on a player who’d be merely a back-up to their regular starters.
Since the beginning of the 2018/19 season, though, Mahrez has been more involved in Pep Guardiola’s plans than it seems most anticipated.
Including the Community Shield, the Algerian winger had featured in all 14 of City’s games thus far, starting seven times.
And his contribution has been sufficient enough that his presence has enabled Guardiola to rotate his attacking options without suffering any kind of drop-off.
City currently sit in their customary position atop the Premier League table, with seven wins and no defeats from nine games. Mahrez has started key fixtures against challengers Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool and already has three league goals to his name.
As the above graphic shows, while not standing out in any one category, Mahrez’s level of productivity is consistent with positional rivals Leroy Sané and Raheem Sterling.
Compared to his final season with Leicester, the 27-year-old has, of course, seen an increase in many statistical categories, an obvious result of now playing within the English top flight’s most dominant side.
For starters, he is getting twice as many touches in the opposition’s penalty area in sky blue, with 7.66 per 90 minutes up from 3.8 at Leicester. He is shooting twice as often, too (4.81 shots per 90 from 2.21), while the open-play scoring chances he is now benefiting from are worth an expected goals per 90 average of 0.4, compared to 0.15 last season with the Foxes.
Interestingly, Mahrez is proving less reliant on his dribbling skills – possibly his biggest asset – with City, now making just 1.97 completed take-ons per 90, down from 2.49. This is perhaps evidence of how he is no longer expected to carry such a heavy creative burden as he was at the King Power Stadium, surrounded now by a supporting cast of world-class creators.
The numbers that will most please Guardiola, though, as those which point to Mahrez’s impressive dedication to winning the ball back, a commitment the Catalan tactician demands of his attackers. The winger’s combined per-90 average for interceptions and tackles has risen to 2.62 from just 1.86 in his final campaign with Leicester.
It should come as no surprise that the 2015/16 PFA Player of the Year, one of the key men in Leicester’s incredible title triumph of the same season, has proven himself to be an asset at one of Europe’s best clubs.
Mahrez’s City assimilation is as much a success story built on hard work as on simply talent, though.