Saturday 5th March 2016: Watford 0 Leicester City 1. The goal scorer? Riyad Mahrez. A reoccurring theme was the case on a Saturday Evening in Watford as Mahrez’s deadly touch put him inside perfect range to allow him to riffle the ball past an on-looking Heurelho Gomes.
Ranieri’s men produced the type of performance which became routine in the 2015-16 season that night in Watford, and the magic of the Algerian allowed Leicester to pick up another three points in their quest for the title.Embed from Getty Images
Undeniably, Riyad Mahrez was one of the catalysts of Leicester City’s remarkable story and there were unforgettable memories displayed in the 2015-2016 season by the Leicester City winger. Mahrez was deservedly awarded with the PFA Players’ Player award and became the first African to earn the prestigious accolade with 17 Premier League goals and 10 assists to his name in the 2015-16 season. He struggled to emulate this the following season with just six goals and four assists in the following campaign.
It’s fair to say since the glory days of winning the PFA accolade, Mahrez despite showing glimpses of his obvious talent, has dwindled away and almost become the ‘what if’ man. I found myself walking away from many performances the following season saying, ‘what if Mahrez was back to his best?’ and ‘if only Mahrez was playing how he played last year’. And yes, as a fan it’s easy to pin your hopes on one player, but simply Riyad Mahrez is Leicester’s whiz kid and the player they turn to in need of something special.
The recent arrival of Claude Puel could be what the Algerian international needs to get his performances back to where they once were. It has been suggested that while at Nice, Puel formed a special relationship with his most talented player, who at the time was Hatem Ben Arfa. This relationship showed to be valuable as Ben Arfa provided Nice with 17 goals in 34 appearances under Puel.
Mahrez could without doubt be Puels ‘star man’ and if the manager was to put his faith and confidence in Leicester’s number 26, his performances could place Mahrez amongst the most talked about names once again. The first real sign of the ‘old Mahrez’ this season came a few weeks ago in the Carabao Cup performance against Leeds. He picked up the ball with an exquisite touch, darted past one Leeds defender and glided inside another two before dispatching the ball past the on-looking Leeds United keeper. That type of goal was typical from the Algerian and the type of goal Leicester fans adored.
In Puel’s first game as manager, a 2-0 victory over Everton, Mahrez produced a steady and balanced performance and was given the number 10 role. A role which before the game Thierry Henry stated would allow him to be free and show his best. The opening goal at the King Power last weekend was ‘Leicester-like’ and unsurprisingly, involved Mahrez.
Demari Gray picked up the ball from an Everton free kick and found himself in space after brushing off Tom Davies and Idrissa Gueye, he looked up to see Mahrez, who made a perfectly timed run into space. He picked the ball up and produced a strikers dream of a cross right into the path of Jamie Vardy who comfortably blasted the ball past Pickford. This was the Leicester of old, a slick counter attack finished with Mahrez assisting Vardy, how many times have we heard that before?Embed from Getty Images
The real question is can Puel get the performances out of Mahrez and if so how will he do this? The bonus of the two is they are both French born and speak fluently, this eliminates any communication barriers between the pair. Reports from Sky last week claimed the new boss is hoping to ‘seduce’ Mahrez into staying at the club. Although Mahrez handed in a transfer request in the previous transfer window and was looking likely to leave the club, he still remains a Leicester player and I’m sure Puel amongst supporters will be hoping this is the case for a little while longer.
Written by Eamon Kitching.