Pep Guardiola cannot ignore Riyad Mahrez impact in Manchester derby selection



Pep Guardiola is not a big fan of statistics – he said so himself earlier this week – but one stat he cannot ignore is the goals column, and Riyad Mahrez’s ever-growing impact on the team is making him almost undroppable.

His exclusion from the Manchester City side in recent weeks has baffled supporters, with Guardiola openly admitting he’s been wanting to pack the midfield to accommodate the trio of Ilkay Gundogan, Bernardo Silva and Kevin De Bruyne.

Despite bouncing back from a disappointing 3-2 loss against Tottenham Hotspur with a 1-0 win against Everton, both performances were criticized for their sloppiness in possession and the slow tempo of transitions. In fact, only a defensive error from the Toffees allowed Phil Foden to slot in City’s winner.

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A common theme from both games is that Mahrez was missing from the starting line-up. Even in the defeat against Spurs, the Algerian came onto the field and with one of his first touches from him, under massive pressure, slammed in what seemed like a crucial penalty.

Nineteen goals and seven assists so far this season are ridiculous numbers, especially considering his early-season spell out of the side and his involvement with Algeria at the African Cup of Nations.

He’s now operating on a level we haven’t seen from him before. In big moments, in big games, Mahrez is stepping up to the plate for City. It’s a continuation of the form which saw him net once in the Champions League quarter-final and three times across two legs in the semi-finals last season.

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All of these reasons make an omission from the starting line-up even more confusing, but surely the 30-year-old will start against Ralf Rangnick’s Manchester United on Sunday.

During Guardiola’s experiment operating Silva as the false nine, he’s allowed room for both Gundogan and De Bruyne to roam free and try and unlock tight defenses from all angles. However, the team has suffered by not having an out-and-out winger on the opposite side to Raheem Sterling.

It’s made City somewhat predictable in their build-up, and a switch back to a more natural system may suit Guardiola’s personnel. That would, naturally, mean sacrificing one of the aforementioned trio, but the axis of De Bruyne and Silva has constantly proven throughout the season that they are more than comfortable in controlling games themselves – with Rodri in support, of course.

United have improved defensively under Rangnick, but the full-back areas will be a place where City can really exploit their rivals’ weakness. Particularly on the side of Luke Shaw, who has seen his form of him dramatically dip since his incredible 2020/21 campaign for both club and country.

And who is the best operating on the right side? Riyadh Mahrez. Simply put, the Algerian must be one of Guardiola’s first names on the team sheet this Sunday.

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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