Only 20 days passed when Riyad Mahrez’s concern about whether he would score in the Champions League again for Manchester City ceased. With the Algerian eliminated from the penalty spot in the second leg of the quarter-final match against Borussia Dortmund, 14 matches ended without knocking out the opponent’s goalkeeper in the tournament.
There was great personal relief: Mehrez’s last goal that he mixed with the European elite was in September 2019 against Shakhtar Donetsk. Since that night in Germany, it has been a story of personal victory.
The Algerian moved away from the edges, becoming the main reason for City’s greatest continental achievement to date, and the reason that every major decision and financial outlay revolved around it. The club reached its Champions League climax for the first time in its history, thanks in large part to its three goals that killed Paris Saint-Germain in the first leg of the semi-finals.
On Tuesday evening, any hopes for the return of Mauricio Pochettino’s men were frozen, and then Mahrez eliminated them completely.
There were just 11 minutes on the clock amid torrential rain and hail when Ederson fired a long ball to the left at Oleksandr Zinchenko.
His withdrawal to Kevin De Bruyne ended with the midfielder being hit with a shot, but Mahrez was following on the right side and traveled through Keylor Navas to boost City’s rise in the match.
A week ago in France, it was his free kick that changed the nature of the conflict, swinging the way in City with an unthinkable 2-1 victory after the wonderful first half from Paris Saint-Germain.
Mahrez admits that he was a little wrong in delivering the deadly ball he had asked De Bruyne: “I wanted to go around the wall to be frank, and I missed that but it went between the players.”
The intent wasn’t important as it hit the back of the network and damaged the PSG. His first goal in Manchester shattered the visitors’ ambitions in a quick start lined up to fix the damage.
Second – fondling the grid ceiling from six yards after playing Hariri in the intermission of De Bruyne and Phil Foden – stifling all remaining hopes of Neymar and his companions.
Mahrez had crushed Paris Saint-Germain and eventually pushed Pep Guardiola over the goal line.
City booked its first European show in 51 years. And the man who has been so pivotal in achieving this has long been seen as a small part player, someone who runs the risk of being dispensed with and easily replaced.
Mahrez, who has two years on his contract, has done his job for the most part of City’s story so far.
A chance to shine a spotlight on the Champions League final awaits him, but perhaps a new deal as well: his goals surely achieved him.