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Riyad Mahrez: Champions League stats highlight maestro’s renaissance

Riyad Mahrez
Ed Dove
Ed Dove
Riyad Mahrez starred once again as Leicester City reached the Champions League quarter-finals on Tuesday after seeing off Sevilla 2-0 at the King Power Stadium, completing a fine comeback after losing the first leg 2-1.

The Algeria forward has received significant criticism for much of the campaign after failing to come close to matching the high standards he reached last season.

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During the Foxes’ miraculous 2015/16 campaign, he was one of the stars of Claudio Ranieri’s side, contributing 17 goals and 11 assists en route to the PFA Players’ Player of the Year and PFA Fans’ Player of the Year award.

However, this season, he’s found the going much tougher, with Premier League defences much more aware of the north African’s qualities and his ability to create havoc when cutting in on his left foot.

In 25 outings in the top flight, he’s scored just four goals and contributed two assists – with one of each coming since Ranieri’s dismissal.

While Mahrez had a purple patch in November, scoring three goals and contributing an assist during a four-game spell, he has largely been anonymous as the Foxes became embroiled in a relegation battle.

However, with his form in the EPL largely dropping off, the attacker has been impressive in Leicester’s maiden Champions League campaign.

His assist against Sevilla – a cross bundled over the line by captain Wes Morgan to give the Foxes the advantage – was his sixth decisive contribution in the UCL for the east Midlanders.

Putting this in perspective, Leicester have only scored 10 goals in their debut campaign at the European high table, demonstrating how valuable Mahrez’s contribution of four goals and two assists has been.

Gianluigi Buffon, after Juventus’ progression against FC Porto, said the reigning Italian champions were keen on avoiding the Foxes in the quarter-finals. Considering Mahrez’s performances at the top table this term, it’s easy to understand why the Old Lady’s veteran may be nervous about caging the north African.

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There’s also evidence that Mahrez – like the rest of his team-mates – is steadily approaching the kind of top form they demonstrated last season.

Their direct counter-attacking approach has too often been negated by Premier League opponents this term, but has been effective against UCL sides who are less wary of the underdogs, perhaps more naive, and more willing to be expansive against the perceived minnows.

The Algerian’s assist against Sevilla means that he has now made a decisive contribution – either scoring or assisting – in consecutive games for the first time since November, just under four months without stringing together such effective performances.

Against Sevilla, he completed a game-high four key passes and completed three dribbles, more than any other player on the pitch.

Only three points clear of the relegation zone, Leicester must not allow their European pursuits to distract from their domestic battle for survival.

However, if Mahrez can continue to demonstrate the kind of menace he showed against Sevilla, Foxes fans will harbour quiet hopes that their continental adventure can continue a little longer.

From the player’s point of view, the 26-year-old has begun to refuel expectations that he can yet be a consistent world-class performer.

Doubtless, Mahrez’s underwhelming campaign has dampened the consensus about his quality, but effective displays such as Tuesday evening’s showing against Sevilla will once again get the big boys talking about this exquisite attacker.

 

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