Riyad Mahrez reminds Mo Salah and Sadio Mane there’s another African king on Man City return – Dominic Farrell

Two more goals, 15 for the season and a starring role in a 4-1 win.

It sounds like a dream weekend for most footballers but part of Manchester City winger Riyad Mahrez will have been gutted for his wonderful individual performance against Fulham in the FA Cup ever had to take place.

A little over 24 hours after full-time in that 4-1 win for Pep Guardiola’s side, Senegal will face Egypt in the final of the Africa Cup of Nations.

Liverpool duo Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane are the headline-grabbing stars, pitted against one another in the battle for continental glory.

Two-and-a-half years ago at the 2019 edition, Mahrez was the man on center stage – inspiring Algeria to glory, having netted an unforgettable free-kick deep into stoppage time to sink Nigeria in the semi-final.

Hopes of a repeat were high as the Foxes entered the current tournament in Cameroon buoyed by a mammoth winning run. That was snapped at 35 matches by Equatorial Guinea and Ivory Coast then dumped them out at the group stage.

For Mahrez, as his country’s talisman and the outstanding African footballing talent of his generation alongside Salah and Mane, this will have stung badly.

Before the fourth-round tie with Fulham, Guardiola said Mahrez was in “perfect” condition to return for City after some time to lick his wounds. It quickly became clear this was not a case of the manager laying it on thick to protect one of his players.

City fell behind in the fourth minute to a goal from Fabio Carvalho, who might soon be joining Mane and Salah at Liverpool.

Mahrez was on hand to tee up Ilkay Gundogan’s instant response and, as City gradually worked their way into the ascendancy against ambitious opponents, their right-winger’s calling card was on display.

Not one in world football traps a crossfield ball with their left foot quite like Mahrez. It’s one of the most delectable sights in the game.

In the 24th minute, he brought the ball under his spell in that trademark style before laying it off to Kevin De Bruyne. Unfortunately, a typical dipping and curling cross towards Jack Grealish from the Belgium playmaker was a little overhit. It would have been a perfect Manchester City goal.

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 05: Riyad Mahrez of Manchester City scores their team's third goal from the penalty spot during the Emirates FA Cup Fourth Round match between Manchester City and Fulham at Etihad Stadium on February 05, 2022 in Manchester, England.
Riyad Mahrez has become Man City’s Mr Reliable from the penalty spot.

Before half-time, Mahrez produced another incredible first touch on the edge of the area after De Bruyne venomously fizzed a pass in his direction and it is a quality his boss cherishes.

“As a player, he has a special quality,” Guardiola said. “He understands the first control, how he attracts opponents to make one against two or one against three and after pass the ball for the free men.

“Close to the box, you always have a feeling he can score a goal.”

And with good reason. Mahrez now has his highest season tally in a City shirt, outstripping his 14 from last season in less than half the playing time. A 25-goal season to drive home his elite credentials is absolutely on the cards

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This is partly down to him becoming, in Guardiola’s words, a “guarantee” from the penalty spot. A miss during his country’s defeat to Ivory Coast did not prevent Mahrez from grabbing the ball to slam home after Joe Bryan felled Jack Grealish early in the second period.

De Bruyne supplied the service for Mahrez to seal a place in round five. It might not have been the cup competition he wanted to be competing in this weekend, but he played his part perfectly to keep City in a treble hunt.

Salah and Mane will enjoy the limelight on Sunday but Mahrez is arguably in the form of his career at club level and primed to have the best medal collection among his contemporaries once again when the dust settles on this season.

Do you think Riyad Mahrez can hit 25 or more goals this season? Follow City Is Ours editor Dom Farrell on Twitter to get involved in the discussion and give us your thoughts in the comments section below.


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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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