With N’Golo Kanté recently moving to Chelsea, Leicester City are bracing themselves for what could be a worrying domino effect. So far, the actors in last season’s epic have stayed put at the King Power for a variety of reasons.
Firstly, Leicester are in a position to pay their players in excess of £100,000 per week as Jamie Vardy’s latest contract, signed five months after the last, demonstrated. A further consequence of the financial comfort enjoyed by all Premier League teams is that they don’t need to raise funds from transfer fees in the traditional way; there is no incentive to sell.
Loyally has been another factor; not loyalty in the ‘kissing the badge’ sense but loyalty to their teammates. No Leicester player wants to be the first to jump ship and be the first piece of the title-winning jigsaw to go. As soon as one player leaves, as Kanté might, there could be an exodus. Riyad Mahrez would have no shortage of suitors should he agitate for a move, and we looked at three possible destinations for the Algerian.[separator type=”thin”]
Jamie Vardy and Arsenal seemed an unlikely marriage for all sorts of footballing and cultural reasons, but Mahrez and Arsenal has greater compatibility. Francophone players tend to harbour affection for Arsenal; hardly surprising given that the club and manager Arsene Wenger are seen as one and a host of top-class French players have played for them under his tutelage. Many felt that Vardy would struggle up against the packed, deep-lying defences that Arsenal typically confront where there isn’t grass to hare into. Mahrez thrives in tight spaces, though he is a potent counter-attacking threat as well.
Contrary to stereotype Arsenal currently lack a creative wideman, a ‘secondary playmaker’. Mesut Özil has been compared to Dennis Bergkamp as the team’s creative fulcrum, but it is easy to forgot that the Dutchman had Robert Pires to share the load with. Too often, Arsenal rely on Özil as their sole creative outlet a problem especially acute following the loss of Santi Cazorla due to injury.
Arsenal have many options in wide areas, but most of them are closer to strikers than midfielders; Alexis Sanchez, Theo Walcott and Danny Welbeck. Alex-Oxlade Chamberlain is the most natural fit in the role of wide midfielder but his style is more ‘push and run’ than patient prober. Wenger loves his sides to have a ball playing wide player; Pires, Alex Hleb and Samir Nasri three notable examples. This current Arsenal vintage doesn’t have one, and Mahrez could fill that void beautifully.[separator type=”thin”]
A return to France with PSG would surely be an attractive proposition for Mahrez. The French giants have recruited Hatem Ben Arfa already this summer, and with Angel Di Maria firmly established, it might prove difficult for new boss Unai Emery to find room for Mahrez in his squad. There is no doubt however, that last year’s PFA Player of Year is of the calibre to mix it among such rarefied company.
Following the departure of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, the role of talisman is there for any player who wishes to mount a challenge. The loss of their record goalscorer also means that Edinson Cavani is more likely to play through the middle; he was often used on a flank to accommodate Ibrahimovic. This should afford the wingers in PSG’s squad far greater opportunity. That said, it is pretty much a foregone conclusion that PSG will win Ligue 1 again next season and Mahrez could be put off by this uncompetitive environment. The appeal of Champions League football would once have proved alluring, but he already has that at Leicester. PSG certainly have the petro-euros to turn his head though.
The Blues have gone about their transfer business in understated fashion this summer, and the Stamford Bridge faithful would surely be excited by the arrival of Mahrez. Chelsea already have a firm interest in his Leicester team Kanté, and it would be surprising if they weren’t at least considering pulling off an impressive double.
Should they do so, it would be interesting to see where Mahrez fits into Antonio Conte’s tactical framework. The Italian likes to employ a 3-5-2 system, with wing-backs operating in wide areas. For all his virtues, Mahrez may not have the defensive discipline to operate in one of these roles. Perhaps Conte envisages him playing as one of a fluid front pair. If you want to play with split strikers and seek width through your forwards, then Mahrez is in familiar territory. It could be that Conte wants to recruit a wide player to provide the possibility of a different system with a flat back four. Or perhaps Mahrez is lined-up as a replacement for Eden Hazard, who has raised his skirt in the direction of Real Madrid in the past.
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