Riyad Mahrez marked his Manchester City return with a fine performance on Saturday as the Blues saw off Fulham 4-1 in the FA Cup fourth round.
The Algeria international had spent the previous month in Cameroon captaining his country at the Africa Cup of Nations, a tournament that ended in shock group-stage elimination for the defending champions.
Mahrez didn’t look like he’d been gone for a second, though, as his two goals and one assist helped City come from behind to book a place in the fifth round. Championship side Peterborough United and a certain Darren Ferguson await.
Riyadh is enjoying his best season in a City shirt. Like many of Guardiola’s signings, he took a while to bed in, but after impressing in the second half of last season he is now setting the pace for City’s other attackers.
In 26 games across all competitions this term, the winger has scored 15 goals and provided six assists – a whopping 21 goal contributions. That is six more than City’s second biggest contributor – Gabriel Jesus – while the team’s second highest goal-scorer – Raheem Sterling – lags six behind.
During the entirety of last season Mahrez was directly involved in 23 goals, a tally he has nearly matched in 22 fewer games. He also appears to have cured City’s mental block when it comes to penalties, having established himself as Guardiola’s preferred taker.
In short, Mahrez can claim to be a crucial player for City. So, with less than 18 months left on his current contract, why is no one talking about extending his stay at the Etihad Stadium?
Age is the obvious factor. Mahrez turns 31 later this month, so he will soon no longer fit the profile of the perfect Guardiola attacker. He is also less positionally flexible than his peers and plays in a position that the younger and more adaptable Sterling and Jesus can fill.
Yet the fact remains that this season he has played a crucial role in City establishing a healthy lead at the top of the Premier League and qualifying for the knockout stages of the Champions League.
In being City’s go-to man for both goals and assists, Mahrez is doing what Kevin de Bruyne and Sterling have been doing for years.
In 2017/18, De Bruyne and Sterling registered 33 and 40 goal contributions in all competitions respectively. In 2019/20, those figures rose to 40 and 41.
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If City’s Belgian midfielder – also 30 years old – was entering the final 18 months of his contract, you can bet that City fans would be constantly haranguing the club to get a pen in his hand. Some might even go all Rio Ferdinand: ‘let him put any numbers he wants…’
The same can be said of Sterling now. Like Jesus, Mahrez and Ilkay Gundogan, Raheem’s deal expires in June 2023. While the latest new contracts rumored to be in the pipeline are for Rodri and Bernardo Silva, it is believed that City are keen to tie the England star down to new terms this summer at the latest.
The same cannot be said of Mahrez. There’s been no talk, no speculation and no word from the player himself.
Perhaps this is because of age and the other options available, but should he leave next year then someone will need to step up to fill a considerable and under-appreciated void.
Do you think that Riyad Mahrez should be offered a new contract at City? Follow our City Is Ours writer Alex Brotherton on Twitter to get involved in the discussion and give us your thoughts in the comments section below.
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.