Missing Mahrez casts shadow over Foxes trip to City
The continued absence of star player Riyad Mahrez means Leicester City travel to Premier League leaders Manchester City on Saturday mired in a crisis created by their hosts.
Mahrez, 26, has not featured for the mid-table Foxes, in matches or training, since his dream move to City was blocked by Leicester’s demands ahead of the January 31 transfer deadline.
Leicester manager Claude Puel admitted Mahrez would be missing for a third straight game at the Etihad and his presence has been missed as Puel’s men have picked up just one point from clashes with Everton and Swansea City in the Algerian’s absence.
“I think Riyad is not available for Saturday’s game. I hope he can come back and work hard with the team sooner rather than later,” said Puel.
“The most important thing for me is to keep Riyad and the club and the fans united and in a good way about this. It is important to keep a good feeling together through these difficulties.”
City are also counting the cost of not being able to land the 2015-16 PFA Player of the Year due to an injury crisis and the toil of competing for four trophies.
Pep Guardiola bore the brunt of some fierce criticism for only naming six substitutes for last weekend’s 1-1 draw at Burnley.
The Catalan claimed afterwards that he had run out of players despite spending well over £400 million on his squad since arriving at City in July 2016.
Leading British pundits, including former England captain Alan Shearer and Gary Neville, suggested that Guardiola may have been protesting against a number of bad challenges on his players in recent matches, which have either caused or threatened serious injury.
The most notable example of that was the reckless challenge by Cardiff defender Joe Bennett, committed during an FA Cup fourth-round tie on January 28, that left German forward Leroy Sane sidelined for six weeks with ankle ligament damage.
It was Sane’s injury, allied to the continued absence of Gabriel Jesus due to a knee problem, that provoked a late attempt to land Mahrez.
With Guardiola’s attacking options limited, even more is demanded of Raheem Sterling to add to his impressive tally of 19 goals this season.
However, the England international knows he can contribute much more having also fluffed his lines at times this season – no more so than when he missed an open goal from point-plank range to gift Burnley a lifeline last weekend.
“I’ve missed so many chances this season. I try to improve on it every day,” admitted Sterling.
“I want to get better and help win crucial matches. If I miss a chance, don’t speak to me. I always try to improve. I’m a bit too harsh on myself, that’s how I am and that’s how I always will be – in order to get better.”
There could be some relief for Guardiola on the injury front with midfielder David Silva available again after an abdominal injury.
Defender John Stones is also back in contention following a knee problem, whilst England youth midfielder Phil Foden is back in training after seven weeks out with ankle ligament damage.
Guardiola’s men enjoy a 13-point lead over Manchester United at the top of the table, but face a brutal upcoming schedule with their next four games in four different competitions as they aim for an historic first ever quadruple of Champions League, Premier League, FA Cup and Carabao Cup trophies.