Manchester City winger Riyad Mahrez came of age in the FA Cup final following a tough debut campaign with the Premier League champions, which made Pep Guardiola’s decision to substitute him 10 minutes after half-time at Wembley even more baffling.
City signed the Algeria international in a £60m deal from Leicester City last summer, but he has found regular starts hard to come by – perhaps not too surprising given he is up against the likes of Raheem Sterling, Bernardo Silva and Leroy Sane for a spot in the XI.
Still, he has made 44 appearances in all competitions and provided an impressive 12 goals and 12 assists, including one of each in the final day Premier League win against Brighton and Hove Albion that ensured they lifted the famous trophy for a second successive season.
The fact he started at the Amex Stadium and then at Wembley was perhaps surprising given he hadn’t played a single minute of top flight football since the beginning of March previously, but he didn’t let his manager down.
Despite tearing Watford’s Jose Holebas apart during the first 45 minutes, being unfortunate with some good deliveries from out wide and seeing a good effort parried away by Heurelho Homes, he was replaced by Kevin De Bruyne in the 55th minute.
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Given he was clearly in a good moment and arguably City’s most effective attacking player at that point, the decision to take off a player who should have plenty in the tank given his lack of minutes recently was harsh and confusing.
We all know that Guardiola strives for perfection, and maybe he felt that the introduction of De Bruyne would provide the final ball that had been lacking from Mahrez at times and put the game out of sight – it certainly proved to be the case as the Belgian shone following his introduction, with the game ending in a remarkable 6-0 win.
But it was hardly a confidence booster for the African wide man, who would have felt that he did enough to get at least a further 15 or 20 minutes on the pitch.
It was a harsh lesson for the 28-year-old, who will now know that he needs to work even harder to impress his manager in 2019/20 should he remain at the Etihad Stadium.