London: Riyad Mahrez is expected to extend his self-imposed strike and miss this weekend’s game at Manchester City, the club who failed to sign him on deadline day.
Mahrez has not reported for training with Leicester since last Monday and Claude Puel, the manager, is already preparing for the game at the Premier League’s runaway leaders without the 80 million-pound-rated winger.
Sources close to Mahrez claim the 26-year-old is unlikely to return to training for the remainder of the week as the fallout from his aborted move to the Etihad Stadium threatens to cast a shadow over Leicester’s season.
Leicester are determined to play the situation carefully, declining to even confirm or deny whether Mahrez has been given permission to be absent, but it is understood there is growing exasperation behind the scenes over the situation.
There are even some claims that Leicester staff are unsure over his precise whereabouts. Mahrez has now missed two league games, against Everton and Swansea City, plus four training sessions at the club’s Belvoir Drive base.
Even if he was to perform an about-turn and report back this week, it is thought unlikely he would be considered for Saturday evening’s match against Pep Guardiola’s title favourites.
Puel will start preparing his team tomorrow before a “shape” session the following day, and Mahrez is not expected to be in the right frame of mind to be available.
In a statement released after his deadline-day move collapsed, Mahrez claimed he had been left “depressed” by Leicester’s refusal to accept a 60 million pounds cash offer from Manchester City.
The use of the word “depressed” has placed Leicester in a difficult position, as they are reluctant to be seen as taking a hard-line stance on Mahrez’s behaviour if it is proved he has a genuine illness.
Mahrez submitted a written transfer request last Tuesday — his second in six months — in a bid to force the move, but Leicester were demanding 80 million pounds, which Manchester City refused to pay.
Leicester did propose a deal including attacker Patrick Roberts — halfway through a season’s loan at Celtic — but negotiations never got off the ground as Guardiola was not prepared to sell in January. The collapse of the deal left Mahrez, the 2016 PFA Player of the Year, stunned and Puel admitted last week he had given Mahrez time off “to clear his head”.
Leicester have failed to win both games without Mahrez and his -continued absence is threatening to damage their hopes of securing Europa League football next season. Leicester also face Sheffield United in the fifth round of the FA Cup at home a week on Friday.
Mahrez has not played for the former title winners since the 2-0 win over Watford at the King Power Stadium on January 20. Puel will be grilled on the issue again tomorrow at his prematch news conference, with Mahrez still expected to be absent from training.
Harry Maguire, the Leicester defender, said: “The boys will welcome Riyad back and he’s no doubt one of our best players. It’s for him, his agent and the club to deal with, but we would welcome him back.”