Riyad Mahrez to join Manchester City: How will he fit in?
By Nick Wright
Last Updated: 11/07/18 11:14am
Riyad Mahrez has joined Manchester City from Leicester, but how will he fit in under Pep Guardiola at the Etihad Stadium?
The 27-year-old, who claimed the PFA Player of the Year award when Leicester won the Premier League title in 2015/16, has signed a five-year deal with City following a protracted transfer saga.
He becomes their first major signing of the summer, but is he a good fit for Guardiola's side? And how does he compare to Raheem Sterling and Leroy Sane?
Goals and assists
Mahrez did not quite hit the heights of his 17-goal 2015/16 campaign last season, but his total of 12 goals and 10 assists was an impressive return nonetheless. In fact, it gave him the highest combined total of any player outside the Premier League's top four.
Since the start of the 2015/16 season, only eight players have scored more Premier League goals than Mahrez (35), while only five players have managed more assists (24). That productivity in front of goal is a major part of his appeal to Guardiola.
Indeed, at City, where Sterling and Sane contributed 28 goals and 26 assists between them in the Premier League last season, Mahrez will be confident of increasing his output even further.
Riyad Mahrez v Man City wingers - Premier League 2017/18
An inverted option?
Guardiola used width to devastating effect last season, with the left-footed Sane hugging the touchline on the left flank and right-footer Sterling frequently instructed to do the same job on the right. Their positioning allowed City to stretch opposition defences, opening up gaps for David Silva and Kevin De Bruyne to exploit.
Guardiola could station Mahrez on the left in place of Sane if he wants to continue with those tactics next season, but the Algerian is best known for cutting inside from the right flank in order to use his favoured left foot. In that sense, he is more similar to Bernardo Silva, another left footer who tends to drift inside from the right.
Either way, Mahrez's one-on-one ability is likely to be key. Guardiola encourages his wingers to beat their men in one-on-ones, and Mahrez's dribbling ability is one of his biggest strengths. According to Opta, only Eden Hazard, Wilfried Zaha and Alexis Sanchez have completed more dribbles in the last three seasons.
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Mahrez is a potent attacker who will depth and variety in the wide positions, but he could also be used centrally - as he was by Claude Puel for much of last season. "He is free when he plays just behind [Jamie] Vardy," the Leicester manager said last October. "He can make a good assist and penetration. He has qualities and he is a talented player."
Mahrez's pedigree is not in doubt, but how will he cope with such a dramatically different playing style? He is going from a team which averages less than 50 per cent possession to one which last season registered 66 per cent. At Leicester, he starred in a side built to counter-attack. At City, he will have to get used to facing massed ranks of defenders.
It is perhaps the biggest challenge he faces at City but there are other considerations, too. Leicester's team has revolved around Mahrez for the last three seasons, but he will no longer enjoy the same status at the Etihad Stadium. The team will not be engineered to his strengths. Rather, he will be expected to slot into the system like everyone else.
Guardiola will be confident helping Mahrez adapt to his style, but the winger will still face a fight to nail down a starting spot. City were practically faultless last season, becoming the first team in Premier League history to amass 100 points, and Sterling and Sane were a major part of their success.
Mahrez only missed five Premier League games out of 114 in his final three seasons at Leicester and will hope to make himself similarly invaluable to City, but with so much quality around him, he might have to get used to spending a little more time on the bench.
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