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Mahrez: Why didn’t Pep lean on wideman in the Man City resurgence?

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The Algerian star’s playing time has declined since the Manchester Derby, prompting new questions about the wideman’s current role.

On Sunday, as Manchester City faced Crystal Palace goal after goal to take Pep Guardiola’s men over Liverpool for the first time this season and indeed since the start of the previous campaign, Riyad Mahrez cut an overlooked figure on the City bench.

Pep’s three substitutions against Palace saw Phil Foden replace Bernardo Silva on time, Ilkay Gundogan was pulled for Ferran Torres and Joao Cancelo replacing the irrepressible Kevin De Bruyne 10 minutes later.

The result of those changes for Mahrez means he has now failed to leave the bench in three of City’s last six games, seeing just 89 minutes of action on a possible 540.

This situation, strangely, looks like déjà vu. There is a feeling that we have already been here with the Algerian star; wondering how he fits into Guardiola’s plans and whether the Spaniard sees the two-time Premier League winner as an important figure in his plans.

Doubts first arose in the 2018/19 title race, although he finished that campaign well – which continued in a successful Africa Cup of Nations, ultimately won by the Algeria. The wide forward carried that feat last season and was one of the bright spots for Cityzens in an otherwise miserable campaign domestically and in the Champions League.

Still, Mahrez didn’t have his way all the way and was dropped for some important games after the lockdown.

Here again, doubts arose.

After testing positive for the coronavirus just before the start of this season, he has rebounded to become one of Pep’s trusted players and thrived in the early stages of the current run of positive results.

Like many of his teammates, he struggled in the first few months, with a deep dive in North Africa’s numbers highlighting an alarming drop.

However, the winger’s display during Burnley’s dismantling on November 28 and the team’s general presentation in Porto days later and the dominant 2-0 victory over Fulham sparked suggestions for a city revival. .

Although there were some bumps in the road including a lackluster and scoreless encounter against Manchester United and a 1-1 stalemate at home against a poor West Bromwich Albion side, Guardiola’s side have recovered from dramatically to win his last five Premier League games, scoring 11 points. and concede one – a late consolation strike by Callum Hudson-Odoi at Stamford Bridge.

Mahrez had played and thrived in those authoritative displays against Burnley and Fulham, but the Algerian’s recent lack of chances can be attributed to a disappointing performance at Old Trafford, where he arguably missed City’s biggest chance to get ahead. its local rivals.

Guardiola has relied on Raheem Sterling and Bernardo in wide attacking positions ever since, with Torres even with 168 minutes against 89 for Mahrez. England and Portugal internationals, on the other hand, had 368 and 420 minutes, respectively.

Bernardo hasn’t had a contribution to goal during this period, but his complete play and pace of work make him valuable. He’s leading in the pressure per game in the city side, with Foden – who has started his fair share of games since United’s draw – coming in second.

While the young Englishman had a tough run in the fall where he had more difficult minutes to find, he and Bernardo have featured more prominently in the last five wins to dramatically cut Mahrez’s time on the pitch.

In the Algerian’s first start since his derby disappointment, he was mostly involved in the best bits of Cityzens’ attacking play in this 1-0 win over Brighton & Hove Albion. He created three shooting opportunities – a top game with KDB – made the most number of passes in the box and only the Belgian superstar beat him for successful progressive passes against the Seagulls.

Even though the former Leicester City man failed to convert a very good chance in the second half (which prompted Pep to shake his head), he had a bit of bad luck not registering a pass after he installed Gundogan at close range or opening the field for KDB with a quick layoff that created a decent chance for the team talisman.

Either way, it feels like Mahrez’s form isn’t to blame for the recent scarcity of minutes, but rather for the form of others around him as well as the greater balance they have. bring to the side.

The North African (4.19) is only behind De Bruyne (6.33) in 90-shot creation actions, with Silva and Foden behind at 3.52 and 2.82 respectively.

As well as being more creative than the Portuguese and Englishman, Man City’s expected goals for 90 are higher each time Mahrez appears.

Riyad Mahrez Manchester City Burnley 2020-21

However, they concede more chances for 90 when the Afcon 2019 winner is in the camp, somewhat validating the idea that there is currently a better balance when the former Leicester star is out of the way.

City’s xG against par 90 is 0.96 with the Algerian in the camp, superior to Torres (0.91), Foden (0.88), Sterling (0.85), KDB (0.81) and Bernardo (0.58).

Also, while Pep’s team earns 2.00 points per game when KDB, Sterling and Mahrez play, that average drops to 2.18 when Silva is present and to 2.08 when Foden is in the camp.

The latter pair’s recent involvement is affecting the 29-year-old’s minutes overall, and their tendency to pressure while providing the side with considerable stability may explain Guardiola’s recent omission from the experienced North African.

Mahrez has tended to come back forcibly into the account throughout his time at City, and there is no reason to believe the Algerian will not make himself more valuable to the squad, starting with meeting Wednesday with Aston Villa.