Pep Guardiola will turn to master Champions League marksman who broke his quarter-final duck

Riyad Mahrez has massively improved Manchester City’s luck from 12 yards, but it all started with one high-pressure kick on a stage where Pep Guardiola’s side had normally faltered.

The scores were tied at 2-2, but City’s old goals away enemy was staring them dead in the eyes once more at a soulless Signal Iduna Park. Maybe the lack of atmosphere was hindering the Blues, but Jude Bellingham had put them on the brink of elimination.

Guardiola’s side won a far from convincing first leg 2-1, courtesy of a Phil Foden winner, but the Birmingham-born midfielder’s early goal in the second leg had Dortmund ahead on the away goals rule – City needed to score.

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As the clock ticked down, it looked like it was going to be more quarter-final heartbreak for the Premier League leaders. But as Kevin De Bruyne had said a year before, it was: “Different season, same stuff.”

City were working openings, but nothing was falling their way, until ex-Liverpool midfielder Emre Can stopped a Foden cross with his arm – penalty given.

I’m sure all supporters gulped at the thought of the high-pressure penalty kick, with a miss from the spot something they’d all become accustomed to. That may have edged up a few clicks when the camera’s panned to Mahrez with the ball in his hand.

The famous Anfield miss was still fresh in everyone’s minds, but the Algerian took on the responsibility and – after a lengthy delay – smashed the ball into the side netting.

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A big goal, perhaps the biggest goal of the season so far and it all but secured City’s place in the semi-final. Since then, Mahrez has scored his last seven penalties and has become one of Guardiola’s most reliable players.

His record in the Champions League is of a similar ilk, with 29 goal contributions in 42 appearances for both City and Leicester. But it’s this season where Mahrez has really shown his class of him, and he’s one involvement away from 30 in all competitions.

Could number 30 come in City’s Champions League quarter-final clash with Atletico Madrid on Tuesday? You wouldn’t bet against him right now.

Riyad Mahrez has 29 goal involvements so far this season

Well-rested and fired up perhaps more than ever, Mahrez will almost certainly return to the starting line-up and aim to be the difference on the biggest stage once more. Even ignoring the pressure penalty against Dortmund, the winger scored three goals across two legs in last year’s Champions League semi-final to Fire City to Portugal.

Diego Simeone will likely pack his defense and sit deep at the Etihad Stadium, so it will be up to Mahrez and co to pick the locks and force some opportunities.

Raheem Sterling’s excellent performance in a 2-0 win over Burnley at the weekend may have thrown his name into the mix for a start, but it will not be at the expense of the Algerian, who has become Guardiola’s master marksman in the competition.

With two crunch games against Liverpool also coming up, this is a defining fortnight in City’s season – so don’t be surprised if Riyad Mahrez has his say.

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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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