Pep Guardiola has declared his “love” for Manchester City forward Riyad Mahrez, who is currently enjoying his most productive goalscoring season ever.
The 31-year-old Algerian was introduced as a second-half substitute in Sunday’s frantic 2-2 Premier League six-pointer at the Etihad between City and Liverpool, and he nearly snatched a winner at the death, but his attempted chip sailed over the bar.
Given Mahrez’s form this campaign you would have backed the forward to find the back of the net after he raced through on goal; he has bagged 22 goals across all competitions in 2021/22, including 10 in the Premier League, making this his most productive scoring season in his career.
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However, he was unable to direct his lobbed effort over an onrushing Alisson and the spoils were ultimately shared in the North West, keeping the title race very much in the balance with just one point between first and second ahead of the final seven games.
Following the contest, and once the dust settled and breathes were collectively caught, Guardiola chose to wax lyrical about Mahrez, despite him missing that glaring opportunity in the final seconds of the game.
“I’m in love with Riyad [Mahrez]; he is an incredible player and person. Today [Sunday], we thought we needed a different quality upfront. We will need him until the end,” Guardiola said.
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“I’m really happy with the way we played. We played well [in the] first half, it was tough for 10 minutes in the second half, but that is normal when you concede.
“They have quality and a lot of threats, but we performed well. It is football, these things happen. How many managers say, ‘in the last minutes, we can’t concede’, we can concede until the referee blows the whistle.”
Kevin De Bruyne produced another masterclass in a City shirt, breaking the deadlock in the first half, and it was his pinpoint ball through that sent Mahrez on his way for that late opportunity, and despite spurning that gilt-edged chance, the Belgian refused to lay blame at his team-mate.
He told reporters after the contest: “[Mahrez] chose to chip the keeper. If it goes in, it’s a wonder goal, but it didn’t go in and that can happen.”