Riyad Mahrez emerges from De Bruyne’s shadow as Man City reach Champions League final

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When Riyad Mahrez arrived at Manchester City in 2018 for a club-record fee of £60million, many questioned this decision.

The Algerian had become the star of the show at Leicester City across a number of seasons but arrived at City fully aware that he was not guaranteed a regular place in the starting-eleven.

He was far from being an integral figure that helped Pep Guardiola’s side edge Liverpool to the Premier League title having missed five of the remaining six league matches on the team’s way to glory as well as sitting out the club’s UEFA Champions League quarter-final second leg exit at the hands of Tottenham Hotspur.

If ever there was a moment you could point to which described his first campaign at the club, look no further than Mahrez’s last-minute penalty miss at Anfield to deny City a first win at Anfield since May 2003.

Last season saw the 30-year-old make 33 Premier League appearances, with 12 of these arriving from the bench.

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Mahrez produced an impressive 11 goals and 12 assists in the top flight despite his lack of starts, but he was again overlooked for a pivotal Champions League meeting- this time with Lyon.

The Algerian was deployed for the final 34 minutes as City crashed out in Europe, once again without a starring role in a crucial fixture.

But this season has been different.

Mahrez has become City’s big-game player on the biggest stage, answering his critics in emphatic fashion.

Guardiola’s side banished their quarter-final hoodoo by knocking out Borussia Dortmund 4-2 on aggregate, which saw Mahrez produce an assist in the first leg and score in the second.

No longer was he tasked with making a difference from off the bench, he has instead decided matches himself.

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Goals in both of the semi-final legs against PSG have helped the Citizens reach a first Champions League final in their history and the 30-year-old has been the difference-maker.

By finding the back of the net in both fixtures, he became only the second player to score in both legs of a Champions League semi-final for an English club after Liverpool’s Sadio Mane.

For so long at the club, Sergio Aguero was the man relied upon to carry the club through testing situations. At other times, it has been the dynamic duo of Kevin De Bruyne and Phil Foden getting the team over the line. Now, they have found a new figure capable of producing a moment of magic.

City’s success under Guardiola has revolved around conquering domestic competitions, sweeping up Premier League, FA Cup and Carabao Cup titles year-on-year. But one trophy has continued to elude them.

The Champions League.

Should the Sky Blues go all the way in Istanbul to claim a first European Cup, Mahrez’s contributions cannot be underestimated.

The Guardiola era at City will go down as one of the greatest witnessed, and this is the trophy that would act as the evidence.

“The Champions League is the thing we are missing,” the two-time Premier League winner said in a recent interview with Manchester City.

But for how much longer will that be the case?

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