Pep Guardiola acknowledged Riyad Mahrez’s winning goal at Bournemouth could be a huge moment for Manchester City’s record signing.
Mahrez came on for the injured Kevin De Bruyne late in the first half at the Vitality Stadium and snuck a 55th-minute strike beyond Artur Boruc – City’s sole reward for a dominant performance where Bournemouth failed to register a shot at goal.
The former Leicester City favourite has endured patchy form since making a £60million switch to the Etihad Stadium during the close season and last scored in the Premier League when City won at Watford in December.
Raheem Sterling, Bernardo Silva and Leroy Sane continuing to excel in the wide attacking positions has also not helped Mahrez’s cause but Guardiola maintains he has no doubts over the Algeria international’s quality.
“It’s so important for him [and] for the team,” he told a post-match news conference.
“He has to know he has to compete with Bernardo and Sterling, he has to be ready.
“If he is positive and thinks, ‘Okay my time is going to come’ then his time is going to come because there are a lot of games.
“I don’t have any doubts about his quality, his mentality is aggressive but he has to understand where he is: a team that got 100 points [in the Premier League last season] and every single game fights and runs and plays.
“The people in front of him are Leroy, one of the most important players of last season; Bernardo, the best player in the league; and Raheem, an incredible player.”
— Riyad Mahrez (@Mahrez22) March 2, 2019
Victory moved City two points ahead of Liverpool at the Premier League summit, with Jurgen Klopp’s men having the opportunity to redress the balance in Sunday’s Merseyside derby against Everton.
The win came at a cost, with De Bruyne hobbling off due to a hamstring injury and John Stones’ first appearance after a groin injury absence curtailed after 47 minutes.
“Hopefully he is coming back soon but what is important is the guy who goes in,” said Guardiola, who was glowing in his praise of his players as they continue to battle for honours on multiple fronts.
“We have to fight every three days. Now we have one week [until hosting Watford in the Premier League] but you see April, after the international break, [the schedule] is scary.
“It’s nice to be there. Winning two titles [the Community Shield and the EFL Cup] already this season, today we will sleep as leaders of the Premier League, in the last 16 of the Champions League and the Swansea game [in the quarter-finals of the FA Cup].
“If Liverpool win, big congratulations, but we never give up and to do every day what we did last season is incredible. Today is a special moment for all of us.”
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