Riyad Mahrez returns to Leicester for the first time with Manchester City
Background image: Pioeb, CC BY-SA 4.0
Riyad Mahrez returns to Leicester for the first time as an opponent tonight. Manchester City visit the King Power Stadium in the Carabao Cup quarterfinal. The Algerian completed his move north in the summer after four and a half years in the Midlands.
To say those years were successful is understatement. Promotion from the Premier League, a miraculous escape from relegation, a title win at 5,000/1 odds and a Champions League adventure followed Mahrez’s move to England from the French second division in January 2014. The 27-year-old quickly won Leicester faithful's hearts with his goals, assists and skill. His performance during the title-winning 2015/16 season, earned him the PFA Player of the Year award.
Mahrez proved he was at home on the big stage during Leicester’s 2016/17 run to the Champions League quarterfinal, scoring four goals in his nine appearances, including a brace on his debut against Brugge. Unfortunately, a taste of Champions League football turned Mahrez’s head.
His protracted saga began with the player's public statement at the season's end.
Out of the huge admiration and respect I hold for Leicester I wanted to be totally honest and transparent. I have informed the club that I feel now is the time for me to move on.
I had a good discussion with the chairman last summer and we agreed at that time that I would stay for another year in order to help the club as best as I could following the transition of winning the title and in the Champions League.
I've had the four best seasons of my career at Leicester and have loved every moment. I feel immense pride to have been a part of what we have achieved during my time at the club, culminating in becoming Premier League champions.
The relationship I share with the club and our amazing fans are something I will treasure forever and I truly hope they will understand and respect my decision.
Despite the alleged agreement, Leicester resisted summer offers from Italian club Roma. Mahrez continued to don the Foxes shirt. Manchester City’s interest first surfaced the following January. Leicester rejected deadline day bids from the would-be Champions, leading to a 10-day holdout during which Mahrez refused to attend matches or training. He eventually re-appeared as a second-half substitute, ironically against Man City.
Mahrez finally got his wish, moving on from the King Power in the summer of 2018. He completed a transfer to Man City worth a club record £60 million for Leicester.
His career with the Premier League Champions began relatively quietly. More recently, the Algerian is showing the form that kept Pep Guardiola coming back to the Leicester board for more than a year. Mahrez claims seven goals in a City shirt, five in the Premier League. His game time is increasing; the winger rarely starts from the bench anymore. The only real blip was the missed penalty in the 86th-minute at Anfield that preserved a 0-0 draw and now sees Liverpool topping the table. Despite that, Mahrez is re-establishing himself as one of the Premier League's top players.
What sort of reception can Mahrez expect from the Leicester fans on his return? Most fans are probably still disappointed with the way he engineered his move. Talking about respecting the club in his initial statement, then going AWOL after a move didn’t materialise, didn't go down too well with fans. However, most supporters also recognise he was one of the best players to ever grace the King Power or Filbert Street turf in the Leicester shirt. Thus, the reception should be relatively positive, especially before the game. As with any fans, Mahrez can expect to receive more stick than his teammates during the match. Foxes fans hope it will slow him up rather than spur him on.
That assumes he plays. It's an EFL Cup match, wherein managers like to rotate their squad, especially heading into the congested holiday fixtures. There is no guarantee Mahrez will be in Pep Guardiola’s squad for the match. If he doesn’t play, Mahrez won’t wait long for another opportunity to return. Leicester's next home game in the Premier League is on Boxing Day against Manchester City.