LEICESTER CITY’S inability to recapture the kind of form which led them to a miraculous Premier League title triumph last season has been well documented, with the Foxes seeming destined for a relegation scrap until a recent improvement.
The way that Riyad Mahrez, last season’s PFA Player of the Year, has looked like a shadow of his former self this term is the most startling example of how far Leicester have fallen.
Riyad Mahrez was the brightest star of Leicester’s title-winning sideOur friends at Football Whispers have delved into the stats to pinpoint what exactly is going so wrong for Mahrez this season.
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No player played a bigger part in Leicester’s historic run to a first ever top flight title last year than Mahrez.
Jamie Vardy may have broken goal-scoring records and N’Golo Kanté was the driving force in midfield, but the Algerian winger dazzled with his trickery, opening up defences the Foxes would usually come unstuck against.
A gifted dribbler with pace to burn, Mahrez was so much more than an over-elaborate show pony. He was devastatingly effective thanks to the one trait that managers prize above all else when it comes to speedy wide men: end product.
With 11 assists and a phenomenal return of 17 goals, Mahrez was directly involved in 41 per cent of Leicester’s total league goals, while also creating two chances and completing 3.9 take-ons per 90 minutes.
It was this kind of productivity that led the France-born star to be linked with high-profile, big-money moves to the likes of Barcelona and Chelsea, as well as making him an Arsenal transfer target – the Gunners were even said to have lodged a £37million bid for his services which Leicester turned down.
Riyad Mahrez's peaks according to Google
PFA Player of the Year for 2016 Riyad Mahrez was a top Google search last year but not in 2017
- Sept 2015 – Man of the Match display vs Stoke
- Dec 2015 – Scores twice to put Leicester top at Christmas
- Feb 2016 – Scores brilliant goal as Leicester win 3-1 at Man City
- Apr 2016 – Wins PFA Player of the Year award, left
- July 2016 – French media claim he’s off to Arsenal for £37m
- Jan 2017 – Scores twice for Algeria vs Zimbabwe
That would have been a monumental 92.5 per cent return on their investment for the Foxes, having paid just £400,000 to sign Mahrez from Le Havre in the French second tier in January 2014.
But, to their credit, they decided to hang onto their star man with a view to making waves in their maiden Champions League campaign.
However, almost a year on, it seems unlikely that any such lucrative offers will be on the table for the 26-year-old when the current season finishes, as interest in the enigmatic forward has died down.
Not only are Europe’s elite clubs no longer paying close attention to Mahrez, but the general public have become less interested in the player too, as illustrated by the above graphic detailing how Google searches of the Algerian’s name have dramatically dropped off.
When reviewing his performances on the pitch for the reigning champions this term, it’s easy to see why he is no longer the talk of the town.
Aside from an apparent reduction in work rate, no longer tracking back or pressing opponent’s as diligently as he had previously, Mahrez’s once-incomparable numbers have take a hit too.
With the campaign almost over, Mahrez has scored just five Premier League goals, 12 fewer than 2015/16.
Perhaps even more surprisingly, having been such a dynamic creator during the title run, he has registered only three assists in the league this season, a reduction of eight.
His dribbles per 90 minutes average is down to 2.6 from 3.9 and his key passes per 90 is down to 1.6 from two.
Perhaps the biggest sign of the fact that Mahrez is lacking motivation this term and perhaps has one eye on the King Power Stadium exit door is that his defensive output has fallen off a cliff.
Last season, he was making 1.6 tackles and 1.1 interceptions per 90 minutes. Those figures have fallen to one and 0.8 respectively.
The saving grace for Mahrez in 2016/17 has been the Champions League, perhaps feeling extra motivated to perform on the highest stage to attract some of the interest that was shown in him by major clubs last summer.
With four goals and two assists from nine appearances in the Continent’s premier club competition, the 30-cap Algeria star has saved his best form for the big European nights, helping spur the Foxes to an unlikely quarter-final finish.
His displays in the Champions League show that Mahrez has not become a bad player overnight, and that, when motivated, he is still a top-class winger.
But he will need to show his best side much more regularly if he hopes to once again be considered among the finest players in the Premier League.