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Transfer Talk: Who can replace Riyad Mahrez for Leicester City?

Spoiler alert: No one, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try.

Leicester City v Arsenal - Premier League
I know we’ve used this image before, but much love to the man for his appreciation of the fans.
Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images

It looks increasingly likely that Riyad Mahrez will be leaving the King Power this summer. This leaves the team with the impossible task of replacing one of the most talented and accomplished players ever to wear the Foxes’ crest. Whoever we sign, they will likely cost more than the £450,000 City paid Le Havre for Mahrez’ signature back in January 2014.

Fosse Posse’s own Russ McCuen argues convincingly that, given his ability, success in the EPL, and price, Stoke City’s Xherdan Shaqiri is too good to pass up. I can’t really argue with Russ on the particulars, but I’m not as sure as he is. There will be other clubs lining up for the Swiss international’s services, and, from a strictly personal standpoint, I’m not a huge fan. He has bags of ability, but there’s always been something missing for me.

“So, Mr. Smart Guy, if not Shaquiri, then who should Leicester pursue?” I’m glad you asked! There are plenty of continental players who are A) young B) attacking midfielders or wingers and C) not playing for one of the elite clubs and D) very good. There are no links suggesting that Leicester are in for most of these players; these are simply suggestions as to who might be able to step in to Mahrez’ role and wouldn’t break the bank.


Naïm Sliti

Club: Dijon (Ligue 1) on loan from Lille

Age: 25

WhoScored.com rating: 7.31

Transfermarkt value: 3.50M. €

FC Torino v Bologna FC - Serie A
Getty has no photos of Naïm Sliti, so please enjoy this photo of Torino’s Saphir Sliti in a mask. You’re welcome.
Photo by Valerio Pennicino/Getty Images

Sliti is not exactly a household name, but he enjoyed a fine breakout season in Ligue 1 last year. The Tunisian bagged 7 goals and 6 assists for Dijon playing up top or on the right side of the midfield. He’s a counter-attacking specialist who can play long balls to start the break and is deadly when it comes to finishing.

The former Red Star man is not the slickest passer in close quarters and fits better with “classic Leicester” than he does with “Puel Leicester,” but his ability on the ball and his crossing on set pieces are reminiscent of those of the Foxes’ Algerian wizard. Sliti is the biggest risk on this list, but is also likely the least expensive.

Simone Verdi

Club: Bologna (Serie A)

Age: 25

WhoScored.com rating: 7.23

Transfermarkt value: 20.00M. €

Bologna FC v FC Crotone - Serie A
Verdi has a trademark on the “putting a coin on your elbow and catching it with your hand” goal celebration.
Photo by Mario Carlini / Iguana Press/Getty Images

Playing primarily as a right-sided attacker for Bologna, Verdi reached double figures in both goals and assists in the 2017/18 campaign, just like a certain someone we’re trying to replace. Like Sliti, he’s deadly on the counter attack and dead ball situations, frequently shooting (and scoring) from distance.

He’s not much of an aerial threat, but that’s the only real weakness the former Torino man has. He can beat defenders of the dribble, is tidy with the ball, and loves to cut inside from the right. If we were looking for a like-for-like replacement for Mahrez, this would be the man I’d go after. Bologna finished 15th on the Seria A table last year, so a move to the King Power would almost certainly be view as a step up for Verdi.

Adem Ljajic

Club: Torino (Serie A)

Age: 26

WhoScored.com rating: 7.21

Transfermarkt value: 13.00M. €

FC Torino v Bologna FC - Serie A
I have no silly remark for this photo, but it’s a nice picture, isn’t it?
Photo by Valerio Pennicino/Getty Images

Ljajic reached double-figures in assists last season in spite of starting only 23 matches. He’s not a one-season-wonder either; he scored 10 goals and handed out 8 assists the previous year as well. Llajic’s skill set is a little different than that of Sliti and Verdi. He’s primarily a central attacking midfielder whose focus is primarily on setting up strikers with short passes and through balls.

The Serbian international doesn’t add much when his team doesn’t have the ball, but when they do, he’s a consummate playmaker from central positions and, as such, would be an excellent match for the style Claude Puel wants the Foxes to play.

Hakim Ziyech

Club: Ajax (Eredivisie)

Age: 25

WhoScored.com rating: 8.21

Transfermarkt value: 20.00M. €

Ajax v Feyenoord - Eredivisie
Photos do not do the man justice. Look up some skills videos on YouTube and weep.
Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images

Ziyech is on a completely different level than the other players listed here. The others could, with varying degrees of probability, be a good replacement for Mahrez if and when he departs. Ziyech absolutely could do the job Mahrez has done and might even be an improvement.

Yeah, he’s that good.

Over the last 4 seasons, Ziyech has averaged 12 goals and 13 assists. He’s brilliant with the ball at his feet, and he’s Kevin deBruyne/Eden Hazard class when it comes to distributing it. Unlike the other players on this list, he’s more of a deep-lying playmaker than an out-and-out attack, but like Ljajic, he would be a brilliant fit for Puel’s system.

Ziyech is the only player on this list who has been linked with Leicester City, but he’s also the only one who currently plays for a club which has qualified for European football next season. That is to say, in all likeliehood, Ziyech would both cost a good deal more than the other players and may have other options he would find more attractive. Still, it never hurts to ask, does it?


What do YOU think? Do any of these names strike your fancy? Let us know!

Poll

Who should Leicester sign to replace Riyad Mahrez

This poll is closed

  • 21%
    Xherdan Shaqiri - Russ is right. Listen to Russ.
    (56 votes)
  • 1%
    Naïm Sliti
    (4 votes)
  • 5%
    Simone Verdi
    (14 votes)
  • 1%
    Adem Ljajic
    (5 votes)
  • 56%
    Hakim Ziyech - Break the bank, we can afford him with the Mahrez money.
    (151 votes)
  • 4%
    Other (specify in comments)
    (12 votes)
  • 9%
    No one - let Demarai Gray and Fousseni Diabaté have their chance.
    (24 votes)
266 votes total Vote Now