Riyad Mahrez insists he never doubted his ability despite fringe role at Man City under Pep Guardiola

to hear Mahrez speak in the aftermath of victory on Sunday night, wearing his second Premier League medal around his neck, but his first at City, was to hear a player who entertained no doubts

Jack Pitt-Brooke
Monday 13 May 2019 20:30
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Ten games that decided the Premier League title between Man City and Liverpool

When Riyad Mahrez put Lewis Dunk on the floor and put the ball in the top corner of Mat Ryan’s goal, it was not only a goal to help seal Manchester City’s Premier League title. It was a goal to justify his surprising inclusion in the team for the last game of the season. And to help make sense of his £60m arrival from Leicester City 10 months before.

Because it has not been easy for Mahrez in his debut season at City. He has looked out of place and out of sync with the players around him. Often taking an extra touch or extra second on the ball, too often cutting inside to shoot when a teammate was running into space for a pass. And the moment he was most remembered for – even more than the winners at Spurs or Bournemouth – was his missed penalty at Anfield on 7 October. Score that, and who knows how the title race would have ended up.

So there have been serious questions about Mahrez, whether his signing was right, and whether he would be an important part of next year’s plans. Because over the second half of the season, from Boxing Day onwards, he started just five of City’s 19 league games. And had Kevin De Bruyne and Fernandinho been fit on Sunday – or Leroy Sane not fallen out of favour – then Mahrez would have been unlikely to start that game either.

But to hear Mahrez speak in the aftermath of victory on Sunday night, wearing his second Premier League medal around his neck, but his first at City, was to hear a player who entertained no such doubts. He spoke with the confidence of a player who had always believed in his own ability. And so if some people were surprised by his selection or his goal at the Amex on Sunday, Mahrez himself was not one of them.

“I’m very happy here,” Mahrez said. “I’m not going somewhere else because I don’t play. It’s part of the game. I need to be strong, stay strong. It’s part of my personality, I never hide away from things.”

When asked about why it had been tough to break in at City, Mahrez pointed out that it is hard for a newcomer to make room for himself in a 100-point team full of established senior players. Going into Guardiola’s third season at Bayern Munich he signed Douglas Costa and Arturo Vidal, two players who had to work hard to try to make an impression in such an established team.

“It’s not easy to come to a team who are settled,” Mahrez said. “That squad did everything last season. I knew it wouldn’t be easy in my first year but I’m very confident in myself and have no doubts about my quality. I knew that when I had my chance I’d take it. I scored at Brighton and helped the team.”

And when Mahrez was asked about the Anfield missed penalty, and whether this goal effectively atoned for that miss, he shrugged it straight off. And pointed to the Wembley and Bournemouth wins that he did deliver. “Of course if I scored [at Anfield] we would have had two more points but in some games I scored and we won 1-0,” he said. “So we’re not going to count everything, it’s about what we did. No, never, it’s part of football.”

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