Manchester City bounced back to winning ways against Southampton after a surprise 2-0 home defeat to Manchester United. The team showed character and a readiness to finish a job already well done by lifting the Premier League title at the end of the campaign. Several players stepped up to the plate with Ruben Dias, Fernandinho and Kevin De Bruyne among the top performers. But Riyad Mahrez was the star of the show.
He was a thorn in the flesh of the Saints who struggled to cope with Pep Guardiola’s men in the final third. With two impressive goals on the night, it was surprising the manager prevented him from having a hat-trick by withdrawing him deep into the second half. Once out of the picture, there was a noticeable difference in the team showing just how significant the 30-year-old is proving to be this term.
The Algerian rolled back the years with a superb outing reminiscent of his Leicester City days. Having helped the Foxes to an unprecedented Premier League triumph back in 2016, the winger was named African footballer of the year. But he has since failed to win any awards for his performances despite achieving tremendous success both with City and the Algerian national team.
He is a current African champion having won the Nations Cup with his country in 2019. It was a competition where he carried the hopes of a nation as the star man in the team and did not disappoint. He also won all the trophies on offer in England with City. Yet, he was not considered the best player on the continent.
The award went to Liverpool’s Sadio Mane with teammate Mohamed Salah coming second. Mahrez was only considered third-best. It was the year Liverpool won the Champions League and the Senegalese was considered instrumental to the Reds’ victory. But a continental award should also consider a player that helps his country win the biggest trophy on the continent, right? Mahrez did that.
In fact, the City winger led Algeria to beat Mane’s Senegal twice in the same tournament. First, when the two sides met at the group stage and in the final. Salah’s Egypt crashed out in the second round. But it seems the continent’s football governing body and voters were more concerned about club achievement.
Many rationalised that Mahrez was not a key player for City then. And so despite winning the Premier League, League and FA Cups, he did not rank ahead of Mane. This may be the time that changes. The French-born winger has been a key member of the City squad this time around. With nine goals and four assists, he has already hit double figures in goals and assists.
Although Salah has been getting the goals for Liverpool, Mane has been below par this season. With the Reds struggling to make the top four, Mahrez is helping City to claim another league title. In fact, on current form, the 30-year-old is the best African player at the moment. That should count for something when the award season arrives in 2021.
Former Manchester City defender Andy Morrison certainly feels the same way.
“I hope he gets the recognition, there’s still a long way to go in the season. He’s been in that patch over the last few months but you don’t hear people talk about it,” said Morrison, who is currently a fan ambassador for Man City
“He has been incredible over the last few months, there’s not a better player in the Premier League at this moment in time and across Europe that’s producing what he is every single week.”