Leicester City’s crop of wingers is one of the youngest groups on the team, but also one of the most talented. While health issues didn’t burden this group as much as it did others, inconsistency hindered it all the same.
The superstar winger had a very eventful season. Of course, his on-field production has mostly been overshadowed by his attempts to leave the club and the ensuing drama. It’s an unfortunate reality as his production in 2017/18 was worthy of plaudits.
Mahrez once again finished the Premier League season with double-digit goals (12) and assists (10), and was at his absolute best for stretches of the campaign. His creativity wasn’t limited to goals and assists either, as he led the team with 1.6 key passes per game (per whoscored.com). Often when the team appeared stagnant they looked to him to create something out of nothing and many times he obliged. He responded to questions about his motivation following both summer and winter transfer windows with positive displays, but also fell into a lull for much of the closing stretch of the season that was reflected by the team’s poor form.
Regardless, it was a mostly positive year for the Algerian wizard and certainly outshined his 2016/17 season. If it was his last with the Foxes (which seems likely) it should be remembered for the magic rather than the distractions.
This idiosyncratically killer pairing will be missed.
6 - No player has assisted another more in the Premier League this season than Riyad Mahrez has for Jamie Vardy (six goals). Wavelength.— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) May 13, 2018
The old-school winger has become mister reliable for the Foxes. Despite constant pressure for his spot from a soon-to-be named dynamic youngster, Albrighton always seems to keep his place, and rightfully so.
He ended the year with 42 total appearances, including 30 Premier League starts. In that time he totaled two goals and seven assists, but his true value was in the work he put in on both ends of the pitch. He arguably defended better than any other non-defender in the squad while still managing to finish second on the team with 1.4 key passes per game. These attributes even motivated Claude Puel to use him as a right-back for a couple of games towards the end of the campaign, though the results of that experiment were mixed.
Still, it is easy to forget how poorly he started the season. Albrighton struggled early on and as a result was replaced for a very brief stretch when Puel took over. His form when he returned to the XI, however, was impressive and even sparked support from some hoping to see him receive an England call-up. Unfortunately, that dream never materialized.
So often he seems on the cusp of a breakthrough. Before the season began it was assumed by many that Mahrez would leave and Gray would take his spot. When that didn’t happen, some questioned if he would be able to supplant Marc Albrighton as Mahrez’s counterpart, and for a brief stretch at the start of Puel’s tenure it appeared he might do so.
In Puel’s first match Gray found himself in the XI and responded with a thundering counterattack in which he did the heavy lifting before an eventual Jamie Vardy goal. He topped that off with a strike that forced an own-goal and continued his good form for the subsequent run of games. As the season wore on, though, his influence faded and he was once again relegated to the bench.
In all he tallied 44 appearances, but only 24 of those were starts, and 7 of the starts came in cup matches. In those appearances he totaled four goals and two assists. Overall, the season was arguably a disappointment for Gray, but only because much is expected of him despite his age (still just 21-years-old).
The young Malian continued a trend of impressive January signings for Leicester City, as well as a trend of finding talent in the second division of France. He arrived in the winter window to very little fanfare; it was even challenging to find any mention of him as a prospect or any videos of him on the internet.
His debut against Peterborough United in the FA Cup, however, changed all of that. Diabaté starred in the affair with two goals and an assist as well as just generally good play. The performance put him in position to receive more game time and he was often preferred to Demarai Gray. He didn’t match the output of end-product he produced in that one game the rest of the season, but he did show flashes of skill. His soft touch and desire to run with the ball were assets to City when the team endured its prolonged stretch of flat performances.
Diabaté’s greatest strengths are ones Puel seems to value, and at just 22-years-old and mere months in England (just 16 total appearances with Leicester’s senior team), there is plenty of room for growth. His future could be extremely bright.
The academy product appears to be next-in-line to breakthrough to the first team. He spent the first half of the season on loan at Barnsley where he scored five goals and picked up four assists. He impressed enough to be recalled from his loan in January.
When he returned he made five appearances with City’s senior team, but played just 128 minutes. There isn’t much more to analyze about his season, but the 20-year-old seems poised to join the first-team more frequently next season.
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