In Focus: Why Mahrez is Guardiola’s quiet wildcard

Riyad Mahrez has established himself as one of Pep Guardiola's most reliable attacking options

Riyad Mahrez has established himself as one of Pep Guardiola's most reliable attacking options

It was perhaps the biggest moment of Manchester City’s season so far — and Riyad Mahrez was the man entrusted with it. 

Trailing Borussia Dortmund 1-0 in the second leg of their Champions League quarter-final, Pep Guardiola’s men were awarded a penalty. 

Up stepped Mahrez, a man well versed in handling high-pressure situations, to calmly slot beyond Marwin Hitz. 

City won 2-1 on the night, progressed to the next round 4-2 on aggregate and kept their hopes of a first Champions League triumph alive. It was a coming of age moment for the Algerian winger in a City shirt. 

Ahead of tonight’s Premier League clash at Aston Villa, we look at how the former Leicester man has become a key cog for Guardiola’s side in recent times.

Outstanding contributions

For Mahrez, it was yet another example of just how reliable he has become to this Manchester City team. 

Never a guaranteed starter — in fairness, few are under Guardiola — the 30-year-old has always impressed when selected. 

He joined in 2018 following his outstanding stint at Leicester, where he helped the Foxes to their unlikely 2015-16 Premier League title triumph and was voted PFA Players’ Player of the Year. 

Since moving to Manchester, his game has only continued to develop and last season he registered 26 goal contributions from 50 appearances, after supplying 24 from 44 games in 2018-19. 

But how do his numbers compare with the rest of this phenomenal City squad? 

Production

This season, Mahrez has bagged nine league goals, outperforming his expected goals tally of 5.1. 

Riyad Mahrez scored the vital penalty in Manchester City's Champions League win at Dortmund
Riyad Mahrez scored the vital penalty in Manchester City's Champions League win at Dortmund

In the Premier League, he has produced 0.69 goals and assists per 90 minutes in 2020-21 and has created 0.37 big chances.

Renowned for his dribbling ability, Mahrez has completed 2.26 take-ons per 90 minutes this season. 

How does that compare?

Those numbers stack up nicely against his supremely talented City team-mates. 

Only four players have played more games this season, while just six have made more starts in all competitions. 

Kevin De Bruyne (0.76) and Phil Foden (0.73) are the only players who exceed Mahrez’s 0.69 goals and assists per 90 minutes. 

From his midfield competitors, De Bruyne is the only player to create more big chances (0.8) per 90 in the league this season, while Ilkay Gudogan is the only Citizen to produce more goals from open play (0.51). 

Unique impact

Guardiola has been lauded for finding a way to play without fielding a recognised striker. 

In this fluid system, Gundogan, De Bruyne, Foden, Raheem Sterling and Bernardo Silva have often found themselves in central positions. But Mahrez has a specific role in the side. 

Pep Guardiola (right) knows exactly what he is going to get from Riyad Mahrez
Pep Guardiola (right) knows exactly what he is going to get from Riyad Mahrez

The former Leicester man is instructed to stay wide and stretch the opposition — evidenced by the fact he has registered more than three times as many touches on the right (719) as he has in the centre (195).

Silva also tends to operate more from the right but there is no doubt it is City’s No26 who is preferred in this role. 

Magic touch

It is easy to overlook the contribution Mahrez brings to the champions-elect and he remains the club’s only ‘traditional’ wideman. 

His goals and assists record also speaks for itself — not just this campaign but throughout his City career. It is something Guardiola knows all too well. 

Speaking earlier this year, the City boss said: “He has a special quality. He is a guy who dances on the pitch. 

“He doesn’t lose balls on the pitch. He makes the extra pass. He attracts opponents on the pitch and after he makes a pass in behind.”

In a star-studded squad, Mahrez will never be the main man — but underestimate him at your peril.

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Manchester CityAston VillaPremier League