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Demarai Gray’s outstanding performance during Leicester City’s 3-1 win over Derby County in the FA Cup was an eye opener. It showed to fans why the potential summer departure of Riyad Mahrez wouldn’t be the end of the world.
Even though the versatile Algerian attacker is having a severe bout of second season syndrome, there are still a whole host of clubs eager to add him to their attacking arsenal. Who can blame them? At 25 years old there’s every chance he’s capable of replicating his 2015/16 form.
He was a menace during that season and finished the year as a Premier League winner having aided the cause with 17 goals and 11 assists. He was a defenders worst nightmare and had offered everything most top teams look for in a player in abundance.
He has pace to burn and his quick feet were matched by his quick thinking. He would look to isolate a player before skipping past them and getting the ball onto the wand of the left foot he possesses. He was at the top of his game and you could see it in his play.
He knew he had the beating of most of the full-backs he came up against. He finished the season averaging 3.5 completed dribbles per 90 minutes. He was chief playmaker and goalscorer extraordinaire.
The Foxes are struggling in the league and find themselves in 16th position, just the one point above the relegation zone, and in a battle for survival. The team look deflated. Mahrez has more goals to his name in five Champions League matches (four) than he does in 22 appearances in the Premier League (three).
Despite this, teams will still pay big money for a player like Mahrez so Leicester should brace themselves for a number of enquiries this summer.
Why Leicester Should Cash In on Mahrez
There are a few factors to consider but simply put his stock is still high. If a player has one outstanding season but follows it up with a disappointing one it’s more than likely potential buyers will see the latter as the outlier and still take a risk. However, if Mahrez’s form carries itself over to the 2017/18 campaign then his value plummets.
It also works in Leicester’s favour that even though the money within England enables teams to effectively shop anywhere, clubs do still opt for Premier League proven when possible. If the likes of Spurs, Liverpool, Chelsea and Arsenal get into a bidding war for Mahrez, whose contract expires in 2020, he could be sold for as much as £40million.
Not a bad return for a player who cost £400,000 and has had just the one memorable season to date.
It makes perfect business sense. Swansea must regret not selling Michu for big money after his impressive form and Liverpool must rue rejecting Manchester City’s £20million offer for Martin Skrtel back in 2012.
The Demarai Gray Factor
Claudio Ranieri should be praised for how he has handled Gray’s introduction to life at the top level. Signed in January 2016 for a reported £3.7million from Birmingham City, the 20-year-old made just one start as Leicester City went on to be crowned as Premier League champions. He made a further eleven appearances off the bench but Ranieri managed his minutes.
He’s seen an increase in playing time this season but substitute appearances still out number starts at a 3:1 ratio. The Italian manager has so far resisted the urge to throw the attacker in at the deep end even though his side are struggling.
He was linked with a move to Everton in January but the Toffees signed Charlton Athletic youngster Ademola Lookman. But with Ronald Koeman and former Leicester City scout Steve Walsh wanting a youth movement at Goodison, they may return for the player in the summer.
Helping the Foxes maul the Rams
He was devastating against Derby.
The explosive attacker was unpredictable and aggressive in his play. He tied the the Rams defence into knots with his direct dribbling, quick feet and slaloming runs.
He put in a performance which may make it difficult for the former Chelsea manager to leave him out of his starting eleven as he looks to not have the honour of going from champions to championship within the space of a year.
In the images above you see how Gray creates the opportunity for his goal all by himself. He twists and turns his way through a physically and mentally tired Derby defence, showing quick feet and great strength to keep hold of the ball. He shows composure and confidence to effortlessly fire the ball past the ‘keeper when a simple pass to an unmarked Islam Slimani was on. He backed himself and he delivered.
Leicester have a prodigious talent on their hands and a readymade replacement for when, not if, Mahrez leaves the club. The summer of 2017 may be the ideal time for the passing of the torch as Leicester put the required effort into another player with the potential to be worth tens of millions.