After an outstanding season that culminated in Leicester City winning the Premier League in 2015-16, Player of the Year Riyad Mahrez had a bit of a comedown in 2016-17. While still ending up with 10 goals and 7 assists in 48 appearances, it is widely expected that he will leave the Foxes over this summer.
Leicester let N'Golo Kanté go to Chelsea for £32 million and promptly saw him win the Premier League title again, and want to make sure they make a hefty profit on Mahrez as well, slapping a £40m valuation on the Algerian.
Italian side AS Roma are reported to have made a £29m bid for the player, but the Foxes continue to hold out in the face of attention from a number of other Premier League suitors. Arsenal and Liverpool have apparently given up because of the 26-year-old's price tag, while Everton, Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur are also watching on.
£40 million is a steep price tag, and there are legitimate questions about whether the former Premier League champion is really worth that much after a mediocre 2016-17 season. The radars below compare his 2015-16 season to last season.
Interestingly, Mahrez was actually a better dribbler last season than he was in the Foxes title run, being dispossessed far less. But, a much lower effectiveness on through balls led to a much lower xA per 90 rating. His through ball number for 2016/2017 is actually much more normal for a wide creator, so that seems to indicate that the production rate we saw from him creatively this past season is closer to his actual level.
There is no question that Leicester caught lightning in a bottle in several different ways at once during their title run, and Mahrez’s creative output seems to be one of the areas that was simply not sustainable.
On the goals front, the drop off was once again severe, but if you look at his xG/Shot and his xG/90 stats from one year to the next, they are really fairly comparable. Basically, there was no reason to expect him to score 17 league goals again — and lo and behold, he didn’t.
If he came to Everton, I would not expect him to score 17 goals. He is in large part an inefficient high volume shooter. His shot selection and shooting accuracy was practically identical between the two years, a few more of them just happened to go in the year LCFC won the title.
For Everton, the dearth of wingers on the current squad means that just about every forward who has ever gone wide in his career will be linked with the Blues for the next month and a half or so. If Yannick Bolasie had not suffered such a horrible injury last season, odds are we would not be having this discussion about Mahrez.
However, when Kevin Mirallas looks like he is going to start the season as your most reliable wide attacker, steps need to be taken.
There’s reason to believe that Sandro can fill some of this gap — after all he received the ball in wide areas pretty consistently at Malaga last season. But he is young and fairly prone to adventurous long shots in his own right — and is probably not at this stage in of his career what you want starting out wide.
All of this leaves the wide areas fairly thin and in need of reinforcements. Gylfi Sigurdsson has been the other name strongly connected with Everton in this regard, as he spent last season as a winger for Swansea. Mahrez is younger than Gylfi by a year, though it feels like more than that because when you watch the two of them on the pitch, you get so much more pace and dribbling from Mahrez.
Where Gylfi separates himself is on set pieces. Sigurdsson averaged 1.5 key passes per 90 minutes from dead ball situations last year. For context, Toni Kroos from Real Madrid averaged 1.8, Leighton Baines last year averaged 0.7, Mahrez averaged 0.4. Gylfi is absolutely world class in free kick situations.
When it comes to Mahrez and Gylfi, we have two players who are probably very overpriced because of their status as stars in the English Premier League. Mahrez will offer very strong dribbling ability to any club he moves to, but most of his skills are things that can be found elsewhere at a cheaper price. He does not seem to offer the potential to make Everton elite in a particular category like Sigurdsson would.
I do not think there is any doubt that Mahrez would make Everton better, but it almost certainly would not be £40m better. The club would be better off looking elsewhere.