Riyad Mahrez Performance Against Burnley Offers Bright Glimpse Into the Future Without Leroy Sane

As the ball arced through the crisp Manchester air, with Fernandinho's booming pass echoing around the Etihad Stadium, Riyad Mahrez brought the hurtling object under control without breaking stride.

On a night when misplaced passes and heavy panting dominated Burnley's brutal reintroduction to competitive play, Mahrez's effortless control throughout the game was only made more impressive by this contrast.

With the ball now firmly under his spell, the Algerian winger drove at the rapidly back-tracking Charlie Taylor, throwing a myriad of body feints and step overs his way as he scuttled past the full-back, cutting onto his right foot to fizz in Manchester City's second of the night.

Having left Taylor flat on his back, hands on head, blood twisted, Mahrez casually trotted away, somehow making the dribble more emphatic by his nonchalant celebration.

Mahrez was at his elusive, cunning best against Burnley, constantly finding space as Manchester City's quick, crisp passing pulled apart the Clarets. Most of the pre-game attention had been paid to the £353m worth of talent social-distancing on City's bench (Burnley, for comparison, didn't even fill their quota of substitutes), but Mahrez and his dazzling footwork soon drew the focus to proceedings on the pitch.

Five minutes after bamboozling Burnley's backline, Mahrez grabbed his second, and City's third, of the game on the cusp of half-time. Confirmation that it really was the winger's night came from 12 yards, as he was able to complete his brace from the penalty spot - having missed five of his previous eight attempts in the Premier League.

Mahrez scored two of Manchester City's goals as they eventually won 5-0

The sight of Mahrez tormenting opponents has become a common one in the Premier League over recent years and even though his debut campaign in Manchester ended with a domestic treble, this season has seen the 29-year-old add a level of consistency to his game, garnering more confidence from his manager.

In January, Pep Guardiola was full of praise for Mahrez's attacking threat and his continued level of fitness: "You see his legs it is impossible to be injured because he has no muscles," as quoted by the Manchester Evening News. "The final third he has something special, always I have the feeling he can score a goal."

That 'something special' has brought Mahrez nine goals and eight assists in the Premier League this season, already a better scoring and creating return than the tallies he managed last year.

Burnley's were spared more of Mahrez's taunting twists and turns as Pep Guardiola eventually called upon that high-priced talent on the bench, bringing him off to a smattering of applause after an hour - although he was replaced by Kevin De Bruyne, which didn't exactly provide much respite.

Leroy Sané made his first Premier League appearance of the season against Burnley, coming on for Phil Foden

However, the most highly anticipated change of the night came with 11 minutes to go, as Leroy Sané made his long-awaited return after a limping off in the season-opening Community Shield in August.

Despite an absence from the field, the jet-heeled winger has hardly left the headlines as his widely-touted move to Bundesliga champions Bayern Munich rumbles on. Guardiola appears to be resigned to Sané's departure after revealing recently that the player had turned down 'two or three' proposals from the club to extend his stay.

The question of Sané's replacement has prompted a list including every winger ever to have played a second of Champions League football, but Guardiola may need look no further than his number 26.

Mahrez and Sané call upon different skills when stationed out wide but given the standard the Algerian has reached this campaign, he is approaching the same effectiveness as his Bayern-bound colleague.

Sané was on the brink of moving to Bayern Munich last summer before the injury as the deal looks to finally be done almost 12 months later

However, City may not have the pulling power or financial capacity to attract Sané's replacement if their two-year Champions League ban is upheld. And so, with the prospect of no European competition until 2022, the importance of this season's edition is drastically heightened.

Their last outing in the Champions League was an impressive 2-1 win at Real Madrid's Bernabéu with Mahrez enjoying a particularly impressive second half in the Spanish capital. With City's options in attack expanded by Sané's return, and possibly weakened by Sergio Agüero's injury, Mahrez has the remaining domestic fixtures to play his way into the summer's mini-tournament.

If he continues to deliver displays to the standard he set at Burnley, the only question will be who starts alongside him.

Source : 90min