Riyad Mahrez’s future at Manchester City is a topic of conversation that is only going to receive more attention as the transfer window approaches.
The Algerian winger’s time at the club looked to have turned a corner last season as the integral role he played in City’s run to the Champions League final made him Pep Guardiola’s go-to man.
Yet despite enjoying a full pre-season, Mahrez has started just two Premier League games so far this campaign. On Wednesday, speculation surrounding his future forced him to rubbish claims that he intends to leave the club in January.
However, if Guardiola persists with a recent tactical switch, Mahrez may find himself reconsidering his decision.
In the first half of the 4-1 Champions League win against Club Brugge, City just didn’t look right. After a freak John Stones own goal had cancelled out Phil Foden’s opener, the Blues struggled to get in behind the Belgian side’s back five to create chances.
Every attack was predictable; the ball would be passed out to either Mahrez or Jack Grealish who would cut inside and cross. With little overlapping from the full-backs, City were very narrow.
Playing with ‘inverted’ wingers – left footers on the right wing and right footers on the left- has its upsides. The combination of a winger who can cut inside onto his stronger foot and an overlapping full-back who can get to the byline and cross creates a hellish two-pronged attack for an opposition defender to deal with.
The downside is that wingers waste precious seconds by cutting inside. In the event that no full-back overlaps, the winger has slowed the attack down and allowed opposition defenders to get back into a solid defensive shape.
Guardiola made no changes at half-time and in fairness, City did soon take the lead, but when he brought on the right-footed Raheem Sterling to go on the right wing and pushed the left-footed Foden out to the left, City’s attacks looked much more fluid
“We thought the best way was to play Phil left and Gabby [Gabriel Jesus] right. Both can play in different positions so during the game we thought that they could play in different positions. In those positions you make actions to the byline and you drop them and you can make your attacks more efficient.”
Said approach yielded City’s opening goal of the 2-0 win at Old Trafford. Left-back Joao Cancelo advanced to the byline and put in a left-footed cross which Eric Bailly could only convert past his goalkeeper David de Gea.
By and large, City’s struggles this season have come against teams that have defended deep and challenged them to break them down. City did well against Chelsea and Liverpool, sides whose own attacking intentions left spaces for City to exploit.
But when Southampton and Crystal Palace came to the Etihad Stadium and defended deep, City struggled to create. One of the best ways to unpick both back fives and low blocks is to get to the byline and in behind.
Just like you, we can’t get enough of Manchester City! That’s why we’ve decided to supplement our expansive City coverage on the Manchester Evening News with a more fan-oriented platform catered specifically to City fans – City Is Ours.
Writers and presenters who share your passion for the blue side of Manchester will be producing written, visual and audio content to reflect the mood in the stands as well as the press box.
That creates a problem for Mahrez. Unlike City’s other attackers, he plays pretty much exclusively in one position. That means that if Guardiola wants to start with a right-footed right winger, Mahrez stays on the bench.
A lot of City fans will be glad that Guardiola is starting to use wide players on their ‘natural’ sides with more frequency, but Mahrez certainly won’t be.
If Guardiola is going to stick with this tactic, it seems logical that the 31-year-old will start to consider his options.
Leave a Reply