Guardi­ola says City play­maker is now back to his best form

City for­ward’s all-round dis­play sees off Ever­ton Eder­son hailed among world’s best af­ter hero­ics

The Daily Telegraph - Sport - - Front Page - By James Ducker NORTH­ERN FOOT­BALL COR­RE­SPON­DENT at Good­i­son Park

There was so much to ad­mire about Riyad Mahrez’s per­for­mance in Manch­ester City’s 3-1 win away to Ever­ton that it was hard to know where to start, but Pep Guardi­ola and the an­a­lysts at Manch­ester City will prob­a­bly have a clear idea.

The 78th minute did not yield an­other out­ra­geous pass or mazy drib­ble from Mahrez, it did not de­liver an­other goal or as­sist or mo­ment of at­tack­ing in­spi­ra­tion, of which there were so many from the elu­sive Al­ge­ria play­maker. No, it stood out be­cause it show­cased an­other side to Mahrez, the one Guardi­ola and his team have worked dili­gently to draw out of the 2016 PFA Player of the Year, when he was the brains be­hind Le­ices­ter City’s shock ti­tle tri­umph.

Mahrez was crit­i­cised in his first sea­son at City for not track­ing back enough, for not work­ing the chan­nels. But here he was, tear­ing af­ter Sea­mus Cole­man down Ever­ton’s right flank, then pes­ter­ing Moise Kean and even­tu­ally re­cov­er­ing the ball from Gylfi Sig­urds­son on the half­way line to in­sti­gate an­other City at­tack.

Mahrez may have scored City’s de­ci­sive sec­ond with a well-taken free-kick and helped or­ches­trate the mag­nif­i­cent first and third goals in this im­por­tant win against an im­pres­sive Ever­ton but Guardi­ola made a point of prais­ing the for­ward’s de­fen­sive ap­pli­ca­tion.

“All this sea­son he is play­ing out­stand­ing,” the City man­ager said. “The ac­tion on the first goal, the sec­ond one, the two as­sists he did, one espe­cially to Ra­heem [Ster­ling]. His com­mit­ment de­fen­sively.

“One year, he was the best player in the league so he is an ex­cep­tional player. I’m happy for him be­cause he’s play­ing at an in­cred­i­ble level.”

De­spite hav­ing scored a hat-trick against Wat­ford, Bernardo Silva was on the bench at Good­i­son Park, pre­sum­ably a re­ac­tion to the furore around his con­tro­ver­sial tweet about team-mate Ben­jamin Mendy, and Mahrez took full ad­van­tage, just as he is mak­ing the most of Leroy Sane’s long lay-off with a rup­tured an­te­rior cru­ci­ate lig­a­ment.

Lu­cas Digne, for one, will be glad to see the back of him. Ever­ton’s harassed left-back was beau­ti­fully by­passed by Mahrez en route to City’s schemer find­ing Kevin De Bruyne, whose won­der­ful cross was headed home by Gabriel Je­sus, and given the runaround for much of the game. And as for an exquisite, de­fence-split­ting pass through the legs of Fabian Delph, it war­ranted a much bet­ter fin­ish than Ster­ling pro­vided.

Guardi­ola sug­gested ear­lier this month that the only thing Mahrez needed to work on was “to be more re­laxed when he doesn’t play” – the Al­ge­rian has not been afraid to voice his ir­ri­ta­tion pri­vately at not play­ing enough – but his re­sponse to not keep­ing his place against Tot­ten­ham af­ter a su­perb show­ing in the open­ing-day thump­ing of West Ham has been ex­em­plary.

It is cer­tainly hard to be­lieve he will not be in the start­ing line-up against Dinamo Za­greb in the Cham­pi­ons League to­mor­row, or against Wolver­hamp­ton Wan­der­ers on Sun­day. Guardi­ola be­lieves help­ing Al­ge­ria win the Africa Cup of Na­tions in July has had a gal­vanis­ing ef­fect on Mahrez, whose stop­page-time free-kick against Nige­ria in the last four pro­pelled his coun­try into the fi­nal.

“I think the African Cup made him be­lieve how good he can be,” Guardi­ola said. “I think it helps to win this kind of tro­phy for his coun­try. It was so im­por­tant for him.

“And from the be­gin­ning, he ar­rived [back at City] with an in­cred­i­ble men­tal­ity. He has the feel­ing when he gets the ball in that po­si­tion near the 18-yard box, close to the area, some­thing is go­ing to hap­pen. It’s a feel­ing and I think all the spec­ta­tors can have that feel­ing [about him] be­cause he has a gift. He has some­thing spe­cial.”

City were so good in the open­ing 25 min­utes that it looked like be­ing a very long af­ter­noon for Ever­ton but Marco Silva’s side ral­lied and, in the end, Guardi­ola was as in­debted to the bril­liance of his goal­keeper, Eder­son, as Mahrez’s majesty. With Aymeric La­porte and John Stones in­jured, a makeshift cen­tre-half pair­ing of Ni­co­las Ota­mendi and Fer­nand­inho looks ripe for ex­ploita­tion.

Eder­son faced more shots (eight) on Satur­day than any other team have man­aged in the Premier League dur­ing Guardi­ola’s three­year reign but the Brazil­ian takes some beat­ing. He made two su­perla­tive saves to thwart Yerry Mina and was off his line to deny Do­minic Calvert-lewin a sec­ond goal.

“Eder­son put in a spec­tac­u­lar per­for­mance,” said the Ever­ton for­ward, Richarli­son, Eder­son’s Brazil team-mate. “He’s in the top three in the world and proved that. He was the dif­fer­ence, he was cru­cial in City win­ning.”

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