Two months ago, Bernardo Silva wasn’t just being hailed as the best player at Manchester City, but the best in the Premier League.
When Bernardo side-footed in a sensational volley at Aston Villa at the start of December, Pep Guardiola declared the Portuguese as the best player in the league as he was in the middle of a world-class run of form, with the conversation positioning him alongside Mo Salah as the end-of-season award contenders.
Bernardo’s form hasn’t particularly dropped – he remains one of the first names on the teamsheet – but as City’s unbeaten run ticked over to 14 league games this week, it’s another Blues forward who is the latest player who could rival Salah come the end of the season.
When Riyad Mahrez found the top corner with his penalty to break the deadlock against Brentford, he became just the third player to score in seven consecutive games under Pep Guardiola – after Lionel Messi and Sergio Aguero. The right-winger has seemingly fought off competition from Gabriel Jesus on the right to ensure he is undroppable on current form.
Guardiola declared Mahrez as City’s guaranteed penalty taker now, with his sixth of the season scored for the Blues without missing. In fact, since his dramatic late miss at Anfield in 2018, he has scored eight from eight for City, and has finally solved their long-running spot kick problem.
With 16 goals and six assists from 27 outings this season, Mahrez has already surpassed last season’s goal tally, and is one goal or assist from matching his total 2020/21 goal involvements achieved in 48 outings. He has only scored more in a season once since moving to England – in his fairytale 2016 title winning-campaign with Leicester, while he remains on course to better his best ever total goal involvements from 2020 when he amassed 29 goals or assists.
But while those numbers are impressive, they don’t tell half the story.
He may not be scoring the attractive curlers or mesmerizing solo goals he did for Leicester, but he is undisputedly a better player than when he left the 2016 champions. He has maintained his flair, and added a disciplined, tactical element to his game to reach his best ever level.
Mahrez has had to shrug off competition for his right-wing spot in every season at City, and is often the first to be dropped if Guardiola wants to rotate. His attitude and application of him can never be questioned, but without the high profile goals and assists, he must feel he has to work harder to keep his place of him compared to others who may be granted more leeway if the big numbers are n’ t being registered.
This season, he’s held off a new challenge from Jesus, and has impressively walked straight back into the side after a month away at the Africa Cup of Nations. That AFCON title defense couldn’t have gone much worse, but Mahrez returned against Fulham and Brentford with three goals like he’d never been away.
When City travel to Norwich, Mahrez must be an automatic pick given his form, as he will be when City take on Sporting in the Champions League.
At some point, his scoring run will come to an end, and someone else will overtake him to become City’s in-form player. But with Mahrez, City know he will maintain the highest level for the remainder of the season and surely record his best ever campaign for goals and assists. In a year where City lack a striker, Mahrez is providing the goals and keeping the treble dream alive.
When MEN Sport asked fans for their Footballer of the Year in 2020, Mahrez’s army of personal followers ensured he pipped Premier League and PFA Player of the Year Kevin De Bruyne to that award in a shock result.
If he was to add any more individual awards to his impressive collection this season, there would be no question of whether it was deserved or not. This is Mahrez at a standard City have never seen before, and he is on course to be a serious contender for the Blues’ Player of the Year ahead of Bernardo.
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.