Why has Leicester's Riyad Mahrez struggled to replicate last season's form?
It was always going to be difficult for Riyad Mahrez to replicate the form he showed last season, but he will have been disappointed with his start to the new season, especially in the Premier League. The current PFA player of the year has scored just one goal in the league and has yet to contribute an assist, with his poor form contributing to Leicester’s struggles. It was a difficult for him during the summer due to the speculation surrounding him, but he opted to remain with the champions and now needs to focus on his performances on the pitch. If his form doesn’t improve in the coming weeks, he may find himself regretting his decision not to move on this summer.
Mahrez needs to prove that he isn’t a one-season wonder if he is to retain the interest of bigger clubs across Europe. He has taken to the Champions League immediately and his performances in the opening two matches in that competition show that he isn’t suffering from a lack of confidence. This is positive for Leicester, but his lack of cutting edge in the league is a concern. There were hopes that the Foxes were going to challenge in the top six once again after their transfer business this summer. However, they need Mahrez to be at his best for that to happen.
Interestingly, his figures from this season aren’t too different to last season apart from the fewer goals and assists. The Algerian international has averaged 2.4 shots per game, which is fractionally higher than 2.3 last season. This shows that his confidence has remained high and he still believes in his ability to score goals. His amount of key passes per game have fallen from 1.8 to 1.3, which suggests his quality has dropped.
There has been a change in style at Leicester this season, as they are trying to become more dominant and pass the ball, rather than rely on counter-attacks. Mahrez has attempted fewer dribbles per game, as they have decreased from an average of 3.5 to 2. Moreover, his average passes per game have increased from 27.9 to 34.3, which highlights how Claudio Ranieri is trying to implement a more authoritative style. The change could be having a negative effect on Mahrez as he now has less freedom to assert himself in matches.
Leicester were at their best last season when they were playing on the break, but the loss of N’Golo Kante means that they have been forced to change their style. They no longer have a midfielder capable of retrieving the ball as often as the Frenchman did. Therefore, they now need to try and retain the ball, which has caused a slower build up play. Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez have both become less effective, leading to worse results.
Taking Mahrez in isolation, he is now getting the ball with less space to run into and can’t dribble with the ball as much, due to the opposition having more men behind the ball. This has led to the winger favouring simple passes rather than running at the defence. He is excellent at beating a man in a one-on-one situation, but he is now getting fewer opportunities due to his team’s struggles.
These next few months will be crucial for Mahrez’s reputation in football. He needs to show that he can adapt his game and repeat last season’s form, regardless of the change in the team’s style. The very best players can perform even when their side are playing poorly. Although it is unlikely that Mahrez will be able to match his goal and assist contribution from last season, he can still put himself in contention for a bigger move at the end of the summer. Leicester don’t look like they are at the level to consistently play in the Champions League, but it is now up to Mahrez to prove that he is.
Featured Image: All rights reserved by Alex Hannam
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