While Jamie Vardy has been getting much of the attention on Leicester City for his Premier League record scoring streak, which just ended, he’s arguably been the second best player on his team this campaign. For the first-place Foxes, Riyad Mahrez has been the engine that is leading most of their attacks.
The 24-year-old is fresh off his first career hat-trick in a 3-0 win over Swansea City. The landmark was also the first time an Algerian has scored three goals in the British top flight. The French native was ecstatic with his performance. “It was the perfect day. We won, we’re top of the league and I scored a hat-trick to help the team to win so I’m happy and everything is good. It is my first ever hat-trick in my small career,” said Mahrez to Sky Sports.
Riyad was more of a classic winger before this season but he’s recently added a thirst for goals to his skill-set and it has made him much more difficult to mark. The Algerian international currently is tied for second in the Premier League, with Everton’s Romelu Lukaku, with 10 goals. He leads his side with 31 chances created, six of which have resulted in assists. The former Le Havre man is tied with Everton’s Gerard Deulofeu and Manchester City’s Kevin De Bruyne for second in the Premier League in assists. In other offensive statistics, Mahrez leads the Premier League in dribbles with nearly four a game, and is eighth in key passes per game and times fouled per game. As his team’s captain stated, Riyad is the type of athlete most teams need to compete for trophies.
“He is one of those players you need in a successful team. He is a player who can create something out of nothing. When chances are few and far between he can pop up with a moment of magic, like he did against Tottenham. He can conjure up a moment of brilliance,” said Wes Morgan to the Leicester Mercury newspaper.
The Tottenham match Morgan is referring to is the early season clash when Dele Alli scored in the 81st minute to make the game 1-0. And before Spurs knew it, Mahrez equalized with a sensational goal by shooting off his left foot in-between two defenders. With more success comes opponents trying to stop you with aggressive play and Riyad has been prepared for this type of situation.
“It is more difficult for me now that they know me – they will close a lot. So I have to be careful now, they will start to kick me, the manager [Claudio Ranieri] said to me as well. Last season I was like that as well [performing well] but did not have the success, now this year I have scored. The manager has given me a lot of responsibility and has given me a lot of confidence. I am not surprised about what I can do. I knew I could do things like this,” said Mahrez to Sky Sports in September.
Many teams, including Arsenal, Barcelona and Manchester United, have been rumored to be interested in signing Riyad but Ranieri will not let him leave in January especially since Leicester City are currently leading the race for the Premier League title. The Foxes have been one of the best stories in England so far and it can become a fairy tale ending if Mahrez can help lead his team to a spot in the UEFA Champions League next season.
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