In Focus: Main man Mahrez key to City’s Champions League challenge
Manchester City are desperate to win the Champions League for the first time — and Riyad Mahrez will be key to making it happen.
The Algerian star has been in scintillating form for the Citizens, who will be looking to extend a 12-match unbeaten run when they face Sporting in tonight’s last-16 first leg.
We have taken a look at what is behind the winger’s impressive performances and why he is so important to Pep Guardiola’s side.
Mahrez has always had a knack for scoring goals but he has been enjoying a particularly purple patch of late.
Prior to Saturday’s 4-0 victory over Norwich, City’s No26 had found the net in all of his previous seven appearances.
That included a brace against Fulham in the FA Cup earlier this month, which contributed to a total of 16 goals in 28 appearances across all competitions.
The 30-year-old is just the third player to have scored in seven consecutive games under Guardiola and he is in good company — the other two are Lionel Messi and Sergio Aguero.
City had a problem with penalties last season — only scoring seven of the 11 they were awarded.
But it has been a different matter since Mahrez started taking most of the Citizens’ spot kicks this term.
He has scored all six of his attempts so far, including a crucial equaliser in last month’s narrow 2-1 victory at Arsenal.
It is testament to Guardiola’s high standards that the Catalan tactician was critical of Mahrez after he had a quiet game against Norwich.
Speaking after that match, he said: "He [Mahrez] is an exceptional player but I want more.
"He is clever, he's a goalscorer. But sometimes I want more. Sometimes he's a little bit weak in the duels.
"We've known each other a long time and he knows the intentions we say to him is in a positive way."
Guardiola’s techniques and the fierce competition for places at City have driven Mahrez to improve his game.
He has already scored more goals than in any of his previous seasons at the Etihad Stadium and is just two away from equalling his career-best 18 strikes with Leicester in the 2015-16 season.
Not just a goalscorer
Though Mahrez’s goal record is impressive, there is far more to his game than just finding the back of the net.
He has six assists across all competitions this campaign at an average of 0.31 per 90 minutes.
Mahrez has also conjured a sensational 2.72 chances per 90 — the third-most of any player in England’s top flight.
With a significant proportion of those opportunities representing big chances for his team-mates (0.45 per 90), Mahrez’s vision and flair is crucial to the Citizens’ fortunes.
The pass master
Ball retention is a key part of Guardiola’s footballing philosophy and Mahrez has registered a 90.36% passing accuracy in league matches this term.
He is also inside the top five players when it comes to passes into the final third completed (22.5 per 90) and — perhaps most impressively — has completed more through-balls than anyone else in the division (0.45 per 90).
Whether it is scoring goals, creating them or simply progressing the ball upfield, Mahrez really is Manchester City’s main man this season.