Man City back atop Premier League as Mahrez finally delivers
A club-record signing for $80 million, Riyad Mahrez has struggled to make a significant impact in his first season at Manchester City.
Scoring a huge goal in the Premier League title race might just turn things round for the Algeria winger.
Mahrez came off the bench and poked in a scruffy goal as City beat Bournemouth 1-0 to climb to the top of the standings on Saturday. The defending champions are two points clear of Liverpool, whose game in hand is at cross-town rival Everton on Sunday.
Mahrez’s biggest previous intervention in this season’s title race came at Anfield in October, when he missed a late penalty in a 0-0 draw with Liverpool. He has only scored three league goals since then — and none since Dec. 4 — and has dropped to being the fourth-choice winger in recent weeks under Pep Guardiola, behind Raheem Sterling, Bernardo Silva and Leroy Sane.
Spending most weekends on the bench is quite the comedown for a player who was voted Footballer of the Year in England in 2016 after being a key player in Leicester’s improbable Premier League title triumph.
And there was audible frustration among City fans at Mahrez’s display in his last appearance, the 1-0 win over West Ham on Wednesday when he got a rare start as Guardiola rotated his squad a few days after the grueling penalty-shootout victory over Chelsea in the League Cup final.
Mahrez was only on the field at Bournemouth because of an injury to Kevin De Bruyne, who limped off just before halftime with a hamstring injury.
With the games piling up as City bids for an unprecedented quadruple of trophies, it’s unlikely to be the last injury to hit Guardiola.
“We’ve played 25 games in, I think, 93 days,” Guardiola said. “It means every three days and a little bit more, we play one game. So it’s a physiological issue.
“We demand to play every three days when the body is not already recovered. And, of course, sometimes the muscles say, ‘Hello, it’s enough.’”
Third-place Tottenham’s unlikely ambition to challenge City and Liverpool for the title were snuffed out with losses at Burnley and Chelsea in the past week. With a 1-1 draw against Arsenal on Saturday, Spurs are now far from assured of even finishing in the top four.
That’s because Manchester United is only three points back in fourth after its 10th win in 12 league matches under interim manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, 3-2 against Southampton.
LLORIS SAVES TOTTENHAM
Tottenham ended up being thankful for a point in the north London derby, with Arsenal goalkeeper Hugo Lloris saving an injury-time penalty from Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang after Harry Kane had equalized with a spot kick of his own.
The draw kept Spurs four points clear of its neighbor with nine games left.
Aaron Ramsey put fifth-place Arsenal ahead in the 16th minute but Kane leveled in the 74th from a disputed penalty after he was pushed, although replays showed he was offside.
Arsenal midfielder Lucas Torreira was sent off for a studs-up challenge on Danny Rose near the end.
ANOTHER LUKAKU DOUBLE
When Solskjaer replaced the fired Jose Mourinho in December, Man United was in sixth spot, 11 points off the Champions League qualification positions.
Three days after scoring twice in a 3-1 victory over Crystal Palace, Romelu Lukaku again proved the difference for United with another double — the second goal being the winner in the 88th minute at the famous Stretford End of the ground.
“That Stretford End will always suck a ball into the net for you,” said Solskjaer, a former United striker. “That is the best place to score a winner.”
There was still time for Paul Pogba, after another of his trademark stuttering run-ups, to have a penalty saved to cap a pulsating match at Old Trafford.
Wolverhampton Wanderers consolidated seventh place with a 2-0 win over Cardiff, which stayed in the relegation zone, after goals by Diogo Jota and Raul Jimenez.
West Ham beat Newcastle 2-0, Crystal Palace won 3-1 at Burnley, and last-place Huddersfield slipped closer to the drop by losing 1-0 at Brighton.
Steve Douglas is at www.twitter.com/sdouglas80