Manchester City fought long and hard to prise away Riyad Mahrez from Leicester City. When Pep Guardiola goes all out for a player and keeps returning, there’s usually something special about him. The winger had already demonstrated his quality at the King Power Stadium, playing a key role in helping the Foxes win an unprecedented Premier League title back in 2016.
But not every player raises their game at a bigger club. His former teammate Danny Drinkwater is a case in point. A move to Chelsea was supposed to be a step up to greater heights. Instead, it turned into a nightmare. If anything, the move seems to have destroyed the Englishman’s career as he has since fallen from grace.
Speaking of Chelsea, Eden Hazard’s story further buttresses the point as the one-time king of Stamford Bridge is still trying to find his feet at Real Madrid while readjusting to life in the Spanish capital. His case has been due to niggling injuries though.
However, Mahrez’ story is quite different, as is that of another former teammate N’golo Kante who has gone from success to success since swapping Leicester for London.
Both players have achieved domestic success in English football as well as winning silverware with their respective national teams. They are both eyeing Champions League glory this term. Kante was named Man of the Match as Chelsea held Real Madrid to a 1-1 draw in the first leg of their semi-final tie.
That underscores the Frenchman’s importance to his team. But so is the French-born Algerian becoming to his too. He has scored nine goals and set up four in 25 league appearances for City this term as the team closes in on a third league title in four years. His contributions in the Champions League are also proving vital.
Scoring two goals in the last two games in the competition is good enough. But it is the manner and significance of the goals that really highlight the 30-year-old’s new-found role as the go-to man in the crucial moments.
To put this into perspective, Sergio Aguero’s penalty miss vs Tottenham in 2019 and Raheem Sterling’s open-goal miss against Lyon in Portugal last term both led directly to City’s ouster from the Champions League.
It was at the quarter-final stage and going a step further was fast becoming a mental hurdle for the team. That explains why Guardiola had never made it past the quarter-finals at City... until now.
When the team got a crucial penalty against Borussia Dortmund while trailing 1-0 at the Westfalenstadion, many expected Kevin De Bruyne to take it.
Converting spot kicks has been a problem for Guardiola’s men in recent times. The added weight of the occasion and the need to score by all means added enormous pressure to the Algerian.
Yet he converted expertly before Phil Foden added a stunner that confirmed City’s place in the semis.
At the Parc de Princes against Paris Saint-Germain Mahrez stepped up again to deliver when the team needed him most. His spectacular free-kick goal came at the right time to give the Blues an important 2-1 lead heading into the return leg at the Etihad Stadium.
These have been the crucial times that have defined City’s performance in the competition for several years now. This victory signifies that the team has finally turned the corner.
It does feel good to know that Mahrez has put behind the awful last-minute penalty miss at Anfield in 2018 to become City’s Mr. Reliable, especially when it comes to set pieces.