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Daniel Levy’s imaginary shortlist: Riyad Mahrez

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The Leicester winger dropped off a bit last year, which might make him affordable.

Leicester City v Tottenham Hotspur - Premier League Photo by Tony Marshall/Getty Images

We do a lot of transfer rumor posts here at Cartilage Free Captain, breaking down the validity and likelihood of what we see reported in the papers. But sometimes we like to take a look at the players we’re guessing might be on Tottenham Hotspur’s radar, so we’ve brought back an old series — Daniel Levy’s imaginary shortlist. These are players that Spurs have been linked to previously, or that they should be looking into.

Up next: Leicester City winger Riyad Mahrez, who you probably know very well if you’ve been following the Premier league over the last couple of years.

The basics

Name: Riyad Mahrez

Age: 26

Team: Leicester City

Nationality: Algerian

League: Premier League

Primary position: Right wing

Secondary positions: Attacking midfield, left wing

N’Golo Kante got the big-money move after Leicester won the Premier League title, while Jamie Vardy got most of the headlines, but Mahrez was arguably the star of that team. Not only did he score 17 goals, but he was the creative spark too, tallying 10 assists and an uncounted number of secondary assists that probably would have been just as high.

Mahrez was less impressive this season, but still tallied six goals and four assists in the Premier League, plus another four goals and two assists in Champions League play.

Between Erik Lamela’s injury issues and Moussa Sissoko being a bad player, Spurs are in desperate need of a wide player who’s good at dribbling. They’d prefer for that player to have Premier League, and perhaps even Champions League experience. Mahrez fits the bill.

The specifics

While Mahrez underperformed his underlying stats a bit this season, it’s still clear that he went backwards. Here’s how he’s done over the last few seasons, by Michael Caley’s Expected Goals model.

14-15 season:

4 Non-Penalty Goals, 5.1 Expected Goals
3 Assists, 5.5 Expected Assists

15-16 season:

13 NPG, 7.7 xG
11 A, 11.4 xA

16-17 season:

5 NPG, 7.0 xG
5 A, 8.9 xA

And here’s his stats radar from Ted Knutson:

The decline in through balls is concerning, but given that Mahrez’s expected assist number was still pretty good, my guess is that it’s mostly a product of teams figuring out Leicester’s counter-attacking style. They couldn’t sit back and pump through balls to Vardy anymore. And yet, with Leicester’s preferred method of attacking taken away, Mahrez still found ways to set up chances with cutbacks and crosses. That’s a good sign.

But Mahrez’s best attribute is his dribbling. He’s among the best in the world at running by and/or embarrassing defenders with the ball at his feet. YouTube mixtapes are never the best indicator of a player’s ability, but I’m going to show you one anyway, because it’s good.

Mahrez has a magic left foot, but prefers to play on the right and cut inside. Good players like this are harder to find than great right-footed wingers, which is why Liverpool paid so much money for Mohamed Salah. Spurs used to have a player like this, and found themselves seriously missing Lamela last season, even though they did well enough to finish second in the Premier League.

The verdict

Likely price: £35m

Chances that valuation is wrong: It’s hard to nail down what players cost these days. Everyone costs more than anyone’s best guess. But Manchester City paid about £43 million for Bernardo Silva, and Liverpool paid around the same amount for Salah depending on what report you believe. Mahrez is at a Premier League club, meaning Spurs might have to pay a premium, but he’s also older than both of those players, with worse conventional stats. It really shouldn’t be more than £40m.

Team’s willingness to sell: Leicester doesn’t exactly need the money, but also knows that they’re unlikely to get back to Champions League anytime soon. They run the risk of Mahrez becoming very unhappy or his value going down further if they hold onto him for another season. They have a lot of old key players. They’d probably like to fund the transfers of a couple more youngsters. So: high.

Possibility he ends up at Spurs: Moderate. Arsenal is the team Mahrez has been most heavily linked to this summer. It’s possible that he’s too old and/or expensive for Daniel Levy to rubber stamp a move. But Mahrez is the type of player Spurs need, he has the experience Pochettino wants, and with the Gunners out of Champions League, Spurs can win a bidding war if they want to.

Grade if this transfer goes through: At £30-40m? I’ll give it a B. I think there are better players Spurs can sign for similar or less money, but I wouldn’t be disappointed at all.