The special praise directed at Riyad Mahrez by Manchester City’s director of football Txiki Begiristain reveals just how hard the winger will be difficult to replace at City. Mahrez recently left to join Saudi Professional League side Al-Hilal and his departure has left City with a huge hole to fill in attack.
Begiristain paid tribute to Mahrez after his departure from the Etihad Stadium, saying: “Riyad has been a major factor in our amazing successes over the past five years and his contribution will not be forgotten.
“He is a wonderful footballer to watch and leaves us with so many great memories. There are few wingers that possess his levels of skill and technique in world football, and he will be missed, but everyone will all wish him the best as he begins a new chapter in his career.”
It’s a deal that Pep Guardiola says made sense for all parties involved, and so had to be made. But at what cost to the team? With the task of defending the treble won last season, the quality of the team needs to be improved, not reduced.
The recent friendly match against Atletico Madrid revealed a glaring hole on the right side of attack that Mahrez usually fills. Although both Bernardo Silva and Phil Foden started the game, they played mainly from the middle while Jack Grealish operated from the left side of the attack.
Silva can play from the right wing. But with uncertainty surrounding his future it’s difficult to say if he will still be at the club by the beginning of the new season.
Even if the Portuguese stays, City will still need to bring in another winger to provide adequate cover for the frontline. As hard as replacing Ilkay Gundogan is, replacing Mahrez may prove even more difficult.
There’s no player in the world at the moment that has exactly the same skills and experience as Mahrez. That’s something Guardiola himself has acknowledged.
However, every position on the pitch can be filled with a player that can operate there. Finding the same or better quality is usually very difficult. The likes of Rodri who was brought in to replace Fernandinho and Erling Haaland who has replaced Sergio Aguero are exceptional cases.
Although no one has perfectly replaced David Silva since he left, the team has made progress with other players coming in to fortify the squad. Losing the Algerian means he will need to find a solution again to re-engineer the team for more success.
One of the options may be to use Cole Palmer in the position next season, or he will need to bring in another winger to fill the void.