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How do Leicester City solve a problem like Riyad Mahrez?

January interest from Manchester City has turned the head of Leicester City’s Riyad Mahrez. Now it is down to the Foxes hierarchy to dictate the Algerian’s short term future, writes Rob Meech.

Rob Meech

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Photo: Reuters

As bargains go, few can beat Leicester City‘s capture of Riyad Mahrez.

Signed from French outfit Le Havre for the nominal fee of £320,000 in January 2014, the Algerian has exceeded all expectations to become one of the world’s best footballers.

Mahrez played a starring role in arguably the biggest shock in British sporting history, as the Foxes defied odds of 5,000-1 to lift the Premier League trophy in 2016.

The 26-year-old dazzled spectators with his mazy runs and goals, scoring 17 times in total.

Cutting in from the right wing and curling the ball past the goalkeeper’s outstretched right glove was his trademark.

The nucleus of that title-winning side has since disbanded, with Danny Drinkwater and N’Golo Kante having both swapped the King Power Stadium for Chelsea‘s Stamford Bridge.

Mahrez had pledged his future to the Foxes in the months following their sensational triumph, putting pen-to-paper on a bumper four-year-contract.

However, speculation linking the 2016 PFA Player of the Year with a transfer grew and after a disappointing campaign both personally and collectively, he announced his wish to leave the Midlands outfit, saying he felt it was the time to ‘move on.

A number of clubs were linked with him, but a move failed to materialise.

After initially being omitted from the starting line-up in the early stages of this season, the appointment of Claude Puel revitalised Mahrez, who reminded everyone why he had been so highly coveted.

Since then, his relationship with Leicester has turned sour.

He submitted a written transfer request in January and tried to force through a move to Manchester City, whose £60 million offer was rejected by the Foxes.

Sanctioning his departure on deadline day would have given Leicester very little time to sign a replacement.

Moreover, any potential deal would have been greatly inflated, with clubs wise to Leicester’s sudden windfall. Mahrez though, has effectively gone on strike.

He has not appeared at training this week and skipped the club’s past two fixtures.

Mahrez believes he has been denied his dream move.

He has given the club another 18 months of his career after they won the Premier League and in that time has seen the club sell the likes of Drinkwater and Kante.

Now, he feels the club should repay his loyalty. Instead, he feels betrayed.

It leaves Leicester in a predicament.

Even if Mahrez reported for training, it is likely he would incur a heavy fine and/or suspension.

It is hard to believe his team-mates feel anything other than let down by their star player.

By refusing to work at the club that pays his handsome wages, he is also damaging his reputation among the fans, who worshipped him as a hero.

One course of action for Leicester is to banish Mahrez to the reserves, much like Southampton did with Virgil van Dijk.

In reality, the hierarchy will understand it makes no sense in the long-term.

Selling their prized asset for an amount that meets their valuation, at a time that enables them to identify a replacement, would be best for both parties.

On top of the financial aspect is the effect this saga is having on the squad.

In an environment as highly charged as the Premier League, unwanted distractions can have major impacts.

Ultimately, there are rules that must be obeyed and respected.

No player can be allowed to breach his contract and go AWOL just because he doesn’t get what he wants.

Mahrez is tied to Leicester until 2020, a contract he was more than happy to sign.

He is in a privileged position and his childish behaviour only enhances the disconnect between footballers and the man on the street.

Reopening dialogue with the club and apologising for his actions would be a first step towards reconciliation.

Mahrez’s future may lie away from the King Power Stadium, but there are ways and means of going about it. Remaining professional is top of the list.

The supporters deserve better from a man who achieved more than he could possibly have dreamt of at Leicester City.

Rob is a freelance writer, specialising in football, who previously worked as a sports journalist at the Dorset Echo. A long-standing AFC Bournemouth supporter, Rob can often be found on the terraces at the Vitality Stadium. Follow him on Twitter - @RobMeech

English Premier League

One winner and loser from Leicester’s defeat to Manchester United

A new season for Leicester began with a 2-1 loss at Old Trafford.

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Photo: Getty Images

Premier League football returned last night, as Leicester were on the receiving end of a 2-1 defeat to Manchester United at Old Trafford.

An early penalty from Paul Pogba added to Luke Shaw’s first senior goal condemned Claude Puel’s side to defeat on the opening night of the new season, which brought a case of deja vu to supporters after the 4-3 defeat to Arsenal on a Friday night 12 months ago.

Leicester enjoyed plenty of possession in their trip to Manchester, putting Jose Mourinho’s side under a lot of pressure, but failed to make it count as David De Gea was largely untested. While some impressed, there was others who need to improve.

Here, we have identified one winner and one loser from the game.

Winner: James Maddison

Signed from Norwich City, James Maddison arrived at Leicester City with plenty of expectation as he was widely regarded to be one of the best players outside of the top-flight last season. From the early signs, there is a lot to be excited about.

(Photo by Plumb Images/Leicester City FC via Getty Images)

Maddison proved to be the creative hub for Leicester throughout the match, central to anything positive that the Foxes created and not afraid to get stuck in – with a stern battle up against Manchester United’s new recruit Fred in the heart of midfield.

Having scored 14 goals and contributing eight assists last season, Maddison should be able to provide the spark in the final third that Claude Puel’s side lost following the sale of Riyad Mahrez to Manchester City.

Loser: Daniel Amartey

If you were to describe the worst possible start to a new Premier League season, conceding a penalty just minutes into the opening game would certainly be right up there – and Daniel Amartey was the unfortunate party last night.

His handball mere minutes into the new campaign saw Paul Pogba score from the spot and the Ghana midfielder struggled to get a foothold in the match from then on, riding his luck with a few clumsy challenges before picking up a deserved yellow card.

He was taken off by Puel in a double change shortly after the hour mark and may now face a test to retain his spot in the side.

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Three things learnt from Leicester’s defeat to Manchester United

For the second year in a row, Leicester began the season with a Friday night defeat.

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Photo: Getty Images

Leicester City‘s new campaign did not start in the way fans would have wanted, as the Foxes suffered a 2-1 defeat to Manchester United at Old Trafford.

Paul Pogba’s penalty mere minutes into the match left Claude Puel’s side trailing early on and, despite plenty of possession, the Foxes failed to make it count and Luke Shaw’s first senior goal ensured all three points were secured by the home side, despite Jamie Vardy’s late consolation.

Going to Manchester and taking a result off a Jose Mourinho side is never an easy task but fans will have wanted to see more from their side given the possession that they had, which has left plenty of room for improvement over the coming weeks.

Here, we have identified three things we learnt from the result.

Wasted set-pieces

In an away game against a side like Manchester United, set-pieces are always going to be valuable as clear-cut chances are often few and far between. On top of that, Harry Maguire enters the campaign on the back of an excellent World Cup with England where he was highly effective from a dead ball situation.

(Photo credit should read OLI SCARFF/AFP/Getty Images)

However, Leicester failed to create anything of note from the free-kicks and corners they earned – which will be a major area for Claude Puel’s side to improve over the coming weeks if they are to enjoy a more successful campaign this term.

Clearly the loss of Riyad Mahrez, who was the regular set-piece taker, to Manchester City has seen the Foxes take a hit and they will need the players within their squad to step-up in order to provide opportunities from this positions.

Exciting Chilwell

Still just 21 years of age, it seems like Ben Chilwell has been up and coming for a while but he already boasts over 30 league appearances for the Foxes. He will now be focused on becoming a regular part of Claude Puel’s side and the early signs are positive.

Chilwell proved to be extremely effective as an attacking outlet down the left-side for the Foxes, causing Manchester United problems, but the lack of support ahead of him proved to be an issue. However, with Jamie Vardy returning to action and James Maddison now part of the squad, there’s a real chance for a strong relationship to develop.

With Christian Fuchs now 32, Chilwell could become first-choice this season and could even start to push for a spot in the England squad.

“Chilwell is a young player without experience but with good attributes to take the space to join in attack also. It is a good choice for me with good opportunities.”

– Puel’s selection headaches at left-back from April have proven to be true.

Lack of cutting edge

Unfortunately for Leicester, the absence of Jamie Vardy at the front of the attack, fresh from signing a new four-year deal, was obvious as the Foxes struggled to test David De Gea – and he proved his worth by scoring a late goal off the bench.

Had Vardy started from the off, Manchester United’s defence would have had a much harder game on their hands as his pace and drive would have put the Red Devils defence, which Jose Mourinho famously doesn’t rate all that highly, under real pressure.

Kelechi Iheanacho was the man who led the line at Old Trafford but he did not really get a sniff at goal, while the wingers often struggled to find space to work with when they broke into the final third and the majority of their play came in the middle area of the pitch.

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One to watch: West Brom’s 20-year-old midfielder Harvey Barnes

Introducing The Boot Room’s 2018/19 One to Watch series…

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Harvey Barnes
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There are high hopes for Harvey Barnes at Leicester City.

Earlier this summer, Barnes signed a new four-year deal before being loaned out to West Bromwich Albion for the upcoming Championship season.

He already has second-tier experience, after scoring five goals and assisting four in 1,408 league minutes on loan for the first half of last season with Barnsley.

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Barnes has already smashed in an absolute pearler this season, highlighting the danger he presents from range.

The direct threat he poses from out wide – he likes to start wide and drift inside where he is capable of shooting accurately on either foot – is an increasingly desirable trait in modern football.

Conversely, he is also adept at playing the final ball in such situations.

Sometimes, he simply just likes to take up position in the channel from the start.

(Photo by James Baylis – AMA/WBA FC via Getty Images)

Darren Moore praised Barnes upon his arrival, pointing towards the Englishman’s X-factor.

“He is an exciting young player – one that I think our supporters will enjoy watching,” Moore told the club website.

“He’s got good experience of the Championship already and I am thrilled at the prospect of him adding his talents to our group. I couldn’t be happier that we have been able to bring him in.”

Season Ahead

Those comments are promising to hear as Barnes looks to get minutes under his belt in view of returning to his parent club and being integrated there.

In the meantime, it will be fascinating to see if he can put together a consistent 42-game Championship season.

He did well for six months last season before he was recalled in January by Leicester.

West Brom will certainly be leaning on him as a key pillar in their hopes to return straight back into the Premier League.

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