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Riyad Mahrez: Leicester City's Flying Fox has lit up the Premier League

He is currently Europe's leading goalscorer - so who is Riyad Mahrez?

The young Leicester City winger has set the Premier League ablaze this season

The sporting headlines in the last few weeks have been replete with the name Riyad Mahrez. The Leicester City winger has been impressive so far in his second Premier League season with four goals in his first three games in the English top flight. Leicester’s current position in the Premier League table can largely be attributed to the contributions of the 24-year-old Algerian. All this begs the question, who exactly is Riyad Mahrez?

Mahrez’s humble beginnings

Born in the tiny Sarcelles suburb of Paris to an Algerian father and a Morrocan mother, Mahrez started his playing career at the age of 16 at his local club Sarcelles. In 2009, he was spotted by Quimper – a club that plied its trade in the Championnat de France Amateur (CFA) or fourth tier of French football. After a year at Quimper where he bagged a couple of goals, he decided to join Ligue 2 side Le Havre FC in the summer of 2010.

Playing for the reserve side at Le Havre, Mahrez managed to tally up 10 goals in the first half of the season, prompting the management at the club to offer him a three-year professional contract in 2011. But first team action was hard to come by for the young Sarcelles native, as the manager Cedric Daury thought him to be too physically feeble for the Ligue 2.

The arrival of Erick Mombaerts as first team manager at the start of the 2012/13 season signalled the beginning of regular first team action for Mahrez. Deployed on the right wing, Mombaerts instilled confidence in the young Algerian who repaid that very confidence with 4 goals and 6 assists in 34 appearances for the 'les ciel et marine' in 2013.

Move to Leicester City

Mahrez moved to Leicester City in January 2014, signing a four-year contract with the Foxes. He bagged his first goal for his new club against their rivals, Nottingham Forest in the East Midlands Derby that year. He made 14 more appearances that season adding two more goals to his tally as Leicester won the Football Championship.

Riyad Mahrez LCFC
Riyad Mahrez celebrating his goal against Nottingham Forest

It was during his time at Leicester that Mahrez got his first taste of action for the national team where he made his first international start in a pre-World Cup friendly game between Algeria and Armenia. He was subsequently made a part of the national squad that travelled to Brazil for the 2014 World Cup.

Mahrez started the 2014/15 season brightly and scored his first Premier League goal on 4 October 2014 against fellow relegation candidates Burnley. He made 30 appearances in last season, notching up a tidy 4 goals and 5 assists.

Style of play

Mahrez is the perfect example of a modern day, goal-minded winger. Unlike the wingers of lore, who would race down to the touchline and send in innumerable crosses, Mahrez prefers to drift towards the centre in the final third of the pitch where usually takes a crack at goal. 

So far this season, Mahrez has attempted 14 one-on-one duels and has come off for the better 71% of the time. It’s staggering to note that Manchester City’s Spanish magician David Silva boasts the same success rate. To put that into perspective, Eden Hazard – last year’s PFA Player of the Season and certified expert at taking on defenders – has a success rate of 68.75% this season. Thus, in the 24-year-old Algerian, Leicester possess a player who not only isn’t afraid to take on defenders but is rather good at it as well.

Along with being the Premier League’s top goalscorer at the moment with 4 goals, Mahrez is also one of the league’s most accurate shooters with a shot accuracy of 60%. Of the players who have had more than 10 shots on goal, Mahrez is second only to last year’s Golden Boot winner Sergio Aguero.

Player Club Total Shots Shot Accuracy

Sergio Aguero

Manchester City

11

78%

Riyad Mahrez

Leicester City

13

60%

Gylfi Sigurdsson

Swansea

12

57%

Olivier Giroud

Arsenal

13

56%

The Algerian’s trickery with ball combined with his low centre of gravity helps him run rings around defenders leading them to fouling the winger quite often. As of now, the Algerian is tied fourth in the Premier League for most fouls suffered with 9 – behind Mark Noble (11), Mama Diouf and Wes Hoolahan (10 each). This can be especially useful for Leicester during games as they possess a good aerial threat in new boy Shinji Okazaki.

As Mahrez tends to drift towards the centre of the pitch, he manages to drag defenders and free up space on the left flank for Leicester’s Ghanaian wing back, Jefferey Schlupp to charge forward and crank out the crosses for Jamie Vardy and Shinji Okazaki who are ready to pounce on the ball.

The Algerian in many ways plays the role of an additional forward for The Foxes at times, hovering around the penalty area unnoticed and darting across to meet the ball when it is swung in. He usually assumes this role when Leicester’s strikers aren’t given enough room to breathe or in case they just need another man in the opposition box. Case in point – his goal against Sunderland in Gameweek 1 this season. 

Also on display in that game against The Black Cats was Mahrez’s penchant for attracting fouls while pushing towards goal. In one of his characteristic diagonal runs to the edge of the box, he was hacked down by Sunderlands captain Lee Catermole after serving him a pull-back just inside the box.

He followed that with dispatching the subsequent penalty in Mario Balotelli fashion – calmly. Thus, apart from contributing as an obvious goal threat, Mahrez manages to create set piece opportunities for Leicester whilst also freeing up room for teammates to play freely, thus controlling much of the game in the final third.

Future prospects

All his good work on the pitch hasn’t gone unnoticed in the footballing world with clubs lining up to offer lucrative contracts to the 24-year-old winger. In many ways, Mahrez fits the criteria for most clubs when purchasing an attacker – he likes taking on defenders, he has sound technical ability and at 24, his prime years are most likely still to come.

However, most importantly, he has that eye for goal. This has prompted current Leicester City manager Claudio Ranieri to explicitly state that his star player is not for sale at any cost, according to Sky Sports. While it is probably safe to assume that Mahrez isn’t going to be leaving Leicester this transfer window, it is not entirely improbable to see him moving to a bigger club to play European football next season, given he continues his run of form and maintains his level of fitness.

While the season may have only just started and it’s far too early to be drawing up potential breakout stars of the season, there’s no denying that Riyad Mahrez has lit up Premier League this year. Can he become the surprise package of the 2015/16 Premier League Season?

Riyad Mahrez - remember the name.

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