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
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.”