Riyad Mahrez was Africa’s star performer across Europe this weekend, as his sensational FA Cup semifinal hat-trick set Manchester City on their way to a final date with rivals Manchester United, while also writing some competition history in the process.
The Algerian became the first hat-trick scorer in an FA Cup semifinal since former Preston North End hero Alex Dawson for United in 1958 — when he met Jack Grealish‘s deft through-ball with an emphatic left-footed finish.
Never before has a player marked a Wembley FA Cup semifinal by scoring three goals, as City beat Sheffield United 3-0.
City boss Pep Guardiola shared a glimpse into the player’s attitude when he hasn’t been starting for the club, which, for a player of the Algerian’s quality, has been a relatively common occurrence during the Spaniard’s reign.
“He’s grumpy with me when he doesn’t play, all the time,” Guardiola told journalists after the match. “He makes me notice when he’s grumpy.
“He’s not a guy who has a contract, has to do his job, thinks [about] how many hours I have to train, do my job and go home, completely the opposite,” he continued.
“He loves to be in contact with the ball, that’s why when he’s upset [not] to play is because he wants to play.”
There will be no complaints from player or coach at the conclusion of this one, as City cruised past the second-tier Blades and into the final.
“[I’m] so satisfied for Riyad because he loves to play football, he’s given many, many things in these years and hopefully more in the future,” Pep continued. “Riyad plays good in every game, also in decisive games, he loves to play football.”
It hasn’t always been this way, with Mahrez’s masterful displays against Paris Saint-Germain in the 2020-21 Champions League semifinals being preceded by his omission from Guardiola’s starting XI in the fateful quarterfinal defeat by Olympique Lyonnais the season before.
Again, Guardiola opted to bench the maestro earlier this season, but he’s responded in style and — with performances like these — City’s quest for a treble looks as healthy as ever as they reach a first FA Cup final since 2019.
While attention now turns to City’s midweek Premier League blockbuster with Arsenal, and don’t be surprised if Guardiola again turns to Mahrez to work wonders. In the Premier League, Nigeria‘s Kelechi Iheanacho — himself an FA Cup hero for Leicester — scored in back-to-back top flight games for the first time since February when he equalised for the Foxes at home against Wolverhampton Wanderers.
Played off Vardy from the start, as Dean Smith sought to replace the ill James Maddison and injured Harvey Barnes, Iheanacho was proactive as Leicester sought to make the most of their limited possession.
He may have been in Mahrez’s shadow this weekend, but Mohamed Salah nonetheless made his mark as Liverpool defeated Nottingham Forest 3-2. Salah evaded his man to touch home Trent Alexander-Arnold‘s delicious freekick for his 136th Premier League goal, and his 183rd in all competitions for Liverpool.
Following on from his strike against Arsenal and double against Leeds United, Salah has now scored in three consecutive games for the first time since October 2021 — when he ultimately went on to score in seven straight PL games.
As was the case in 2021, Salah appears to be on something of a one-man campaign to salvage something from Liverpool’s season — he’s now had a hand in 12 goals in the calendar year, eclipsed only by Erling Haaland and Ollie Watkins.
In light of the eye-watering 6-1 scoreline, and the subsequent departure of Cristian Stellini, Sarr’s disastrous cameo may well be overlooked, but this was a showing that highlighted Spurs’ malaise and demonstrated just how the 2022 CAF Young Player of the Year has regressed.
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The 20-year-old lasted just 23 minutes before being substituted by Stellini as he sought to bolster his defences, although Sarr’s own showing was unfocused and off the pace.
He made just one tackle as Newcastle ran riot, and was particularly at fault for Newcastle’s third, as he failed to close down Jacob Murphy and then watched on as he slammed home from distance.
For the Magpies’ fifth, he was also slow to respond to the threat of Alexander Isak, and Sarr departed moments later – appearing utterly shell-shocked as he trudged to the dugout.
Ryan Mason – or whoever else takes the reins at Spurs – will surely now have a job on their hands to rehabilitate Sarr and boost his confidence after a miserable spell – following his encouraging UCL bow against AC Milan — and the disastrous Newcastle setback. Finally to Germany, where Sarr’s compatriot Sadio Mane moved to put recent controversy behind him to get back among the goals for Bayern Munich.
The Senegal superstar was ultimately fined over £250,000 – a record for the club — following an incident in which he punched teammate Leroy Sane in the face following a comment made by the later.
Understandably, he’s appeared keen to let his football do the talking in subsequent fixtures, and finally ended his wait for a Bundesliga goal against Mainz when he met Joao Cancelo’s clipped cross and opened the scoring with a close-range header after 29 minutes.
The goal was Mane’s first in the top flight since October — before injury curtailed his World Cup aspirations — and his warm celebration with his teammates hinted at little residual fallout from his altercation with Sane.
For Bayern, however, all is not well under Thomas Tuchel, and their second-half collapse — they ultimately lost 3-1 — leaves them a point behind Borussia Dortmund with five matches to play.
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