Mahrez finds Retribution as City party in Sussex Sun
There was scepticism (at least) before kick-off, not least – or rather especially – from the Football Scepticism Arena – Twitter, that is. Manchester City headed to Brighton with the title destiny in their hands, and Pep Guardiola’s line-up in Sussex brought a surprise; Riyad Mahrez starts.
That’s how it’s gone for City’s record-signing this season. Surprise that he actually made a start. Before today, his record in the league was six goals and three assists this season. Those are the not the worst numbers, particularly considering he hasn’t appeared that often, but the fact that he hasn’t appeared that often is the problem.
The Algerian was currently standing for the stains in an otherwise superb season for City; his start against Tottenham in the Champions League quarter-final first leg defeat was seen as one of the reasons City lost that tie. On the domestic front, should things go wrong at the AMEX stadium, and City lose the league, many would point to the goalless draw at Liverpool in October, in which Mahrez skied a penalty. In a good season, the man that was supposed to augment the champions could potentially be their biggest blemish.
This appearance in the starting line-up was a bit of faith shown in him by manager Pep Guardiola, who had previously expressed something of an apology at the Algerian not appearing as much as he would have liked. Mahrez had a point to prove, but made a quiet start. He started out on the left, but that meant he couldn’t cut inside to his favourite as he usually does, making for a subdued opening 25 minutes, barring a few good crosses.
For City in general, it was a subdued opening to the game. The passes and control were palpable as always, but there just seemed to be no way through for Pep Guardiola’s side, and Brighton were a threat at the other end. They kept their composure, as they’d done in the past four games when things have seemed tough, but less than 20 minutes in, Liverpool had scored at home to Wolves. That meant City were currently in second place, and things got more awry when Glenn Murray headed Brighton ahead just before the half-hour mark. Cue concern, Guardiola took off his cardigan (a positive, really) and City now had to score at least twice.
But it took just 83 seconds for them to reply, which is the only time they’ve been behind in the league since the end of January. Sergio Aguero, as he’s done time and again, dragged City out of the mire. But just before equaliser, there was a switch, which saw Raheem Sterling move to the left, and Mahrez to a more favoured spot on the right. It was from there the former Leicester man forced Brighton goalkeeper Mat Ryan to a save, which led to a corner, from which Mahrez supplied City’s second for Aymeric Laporte, to give his side a lead they took into the break.
In the second period, Mahrez was dominantly on the right side, seeing more of the ball, and keeping the Seagulls defence on their toes. It was typical Mahrez, and just after the hour, he displayed the kind of brilliance that made him so sought-after at Leicester. Taking the ball on the edge of the box, Mahrez feigned to shoot, before swerving past a floored Lewis Dunk, and then thumping a right-footed effort into the top corner. It was deluxe Mahrez, and the celebrations told the story, vindication for him, and the league all but sewn up.
The cherry was placed on the top of the cake when Ilkay Gundogan curled a free-kick into the corner. After a few weeks of mild nerves and a bit of edginess, things went smoothly here, no drama, no plot twist, just a bright day out in the Sussex sun. A day in which Mahrez shone, offered a reminder of his brilliance, and a message that he might just come good in a City shirt.
Back-to-back league titles for City, the first in a decade. The second-highest points tally in a season, after themselves last term. The highest number of league wins in a league season (32), same as themselves last term. 30 points in two campaigns. Ridiculous.
No title for Liverpool, but the Reds hit 97 points with a win over Wolves, to cap off second-place, and an outstanding season. And there’s a Champions League final to come.
When Manchester United met Cardiff in December, it was the first game in charge for caretaker manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. The Red Devils turned on the style in a 5-1 win in South Wales, to set the tone for a run of one defeat in three months and the return of the feel good factor to the Theatre of Dreams. When United met Cardiff on the final day of the season at Old Trafford, permanent boss Solskjaer was already looking like a man out of time, and United suffered defeat in another listless display, to finish the season with a run of two wins in 12 games. Fair to say the feel good factor has made its exit. It’s a long summer of reflection ahead.
It was the typical final day of the season game at Selhurst Park, as Crystal Palace and Bournemouth played out an eight-goal thriller. A three-goal lead, turned a 3-2 lead, a thunderbolt from Jefferson Lerma, and an absolutely magnificent display from Wilfried Zaha. Perfect way to draw the curtain on the season, especially at a ground where Palace haven’t given fans much to shout about of late.
It was the three-way golden boot, as Mohammed Salah, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, and Sadio Mane all ended the season with 22 league goals. It was a 30th goal of the season for Aubameyang, and it says a bit about Arsenal’s season that such tally for their striker has been quite unnoticed.
Brighton 1-4 Manchester City
Tottenham 2-2 Everton
Watford 1-4 West Ham
Fulham 0-4 Newcastle
Liverpool 2-0 Wolves
Burnley 1-2 Arsenal
Manchester United 0-2 Cardiff
Crystal Palace 5-3 Bournemouth
Southampton 1-1 Huddersfield
Leicester 0-0 Chelsea
Kunle Ajao57 Posts
Kunle Ajao is a football writer and columnist for spotkick. Having made a toss of himself trying to actually play the game, he knew better and got a pen instead of boots. Spends a bit of his time with the game, and thinks he's a bit like Sid Lowe. He's not