During the first five matchdays of the Premier League season, three of the league’s four major African superstars – Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane – had reaffirmed their qualities; this past weekend, it was the turn of the fourth – Riyad Mahrez – to step into the spotlight.
Mahrez has been the quietest of the division’s quartet of continental megastars this season, despite entering the campaign on the back of a quadruple with Manchester City and the African Cup of Nations victory with Algeria in Egypt.
As was the case last term, the former Leicester City man has been made to bide his time by Pep Guardiola; contributing two assists in the season-opener against West Ham United, but then only starting one of the next four league games.
However, his goal and assist in the midweek UEFA Champions League victory at Shakhtar Donestk appeared to have convinced the Spaniard – looking for a response domestically after last weekend’s defeat by Norwich City – to plump for Mahrez ahead of Raheem Sterling for the visit of Watford on Saturday.
The manager’s decision was fully vindicated, with the Algerian one of a handful of star performers as the Hornets were eviscerated 8-0 in a match that had uncomfortable echoes of their 6-0 FA Cup final pummelling at the hands of City last term — another contest in which Mahrez excelled.
During a thoroughly complete individual display, the wideman added City’s third on 12 minutes amid a flurry of early goals, and contributed the assist for Kevin De Bruyne as the Belgian added further gloss to the rout five minutes from time.
Mahrez could have had another but was denied by the woodwork, and he created four goal-scoring opportunities for his teammates as well as completing three dribbles during the course of the contest.
The competition at City, who remain five points behind Liverpool atop the EPL table, means that Mahrez may well lose his place in the starting XI for the trip to Everton on Saturday, but this contest was an iridescent reminder that he certainly still deserves to be considered among the league’s finest African stars.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Mohamed Salah also made decisive contributions this past weekend, the former with Arsenal’s third goal as they twice game from behind to defeat Aston Villa 3-2 at home, and the latter with a 14th-minute assist from a set piece for Trent Alexander-Arnold’s opener as Liverpool won 2-1 at Chelsea.
Among the supporting cast, Anglo-Nigerian striker Tammy Abraham missed an opportunity to level the contest for Frank Lampard’s side when played in one-on-one with Adrian, while Nicolas Pepe opened his account for Arsenal with a 59th-minute penalty at the Emirates Stadium.
At Crystal Palace, Morocco’s Romain Saiss saw red for a second yellow card as Wolverhampton Wanderers salvaged a 1-1 draw, and Victor Wanyama made his ‘comeback’ for Tottenham Hotspur with a 23-minute cameo in their 2-1 defeat by Leicester City despite appearing primed for the exit door during the transfer window.
Africa’s star man in La Liga this weekend was Granada midfielder Ramon Azeez, long forgotten by the Super Eagles, who opened the scoring in Los Rojiblancos’ shock 2-0 triumph over Barcelona.
Azeez, making his first start of the season, thrived in a more advanced role at the point of Granada’s midfield three. Barca turned to Lionel Messi and Ansu Fati at halftime, but they were unable to salvage anything from the contest.
Azeez’s fellow Nigerians Kenneth Omeruo and Chidozie Awaziem were both involved as Leganes got their first points on the board – taking a 1-1 draw away at Valencia – although there was frustration at the Wanda Metropolitano, where Thomas was hauled off after an ineffective 60 minutes as Atletico Madrid were held 0-0 by Joseph Aidoo’s Celta Vigo.
Over in Germany, Amine Harit‘s return to prominence continued with the winner for Schalke 04 in their 2-1 home victory against Mainz 05 on Friday evening.
The visitors looked to have salvaged a point after Karim Onisiwo cancelled out Suat Serdar’s opener, but Harit – who had contributed the assist for Schalke’s first goal – struck an 89th-minute winner to claim all three points for the hosts.
The Morocco starlet endured a drastic fall from grace last term, amid significant off-field troubles, but he appears to be rediscovering top form with three goals and one assist in his past two matches.
The weekend was less memorable for Kasim Adams, whose early opener for Fortuna Dusseldorf was cancelled out by a Marcus Thuram double, and Kingsley Ehizibue, dismissed for FC Koln as they were thumped 4-0 by Bayern Munich.
In Serie A, Internazionale remain the pace-setters with 12 points after four matches having defeated AC Milan 2-0 away in Saturday’s derby. Kwadwo Asamoah impressed for the visitors, while Franck Kessie struggled to get a handle on the game in the heart of the park for the Rossoneri.
Finally, in France, Victor Osimhen wasn’t able to add to his tally of five goals in his opening five matches but did contribute the assist for Jonathan Ikone’s opener as LOSC Lille took a point away at Stade Rennais.
Osimhen made his Champions League debut for the club in midweek, was named as Lille’s Player of the Month for August earlier this month, and is continuing to help Les Dogues’ fans forget about the departed Pepe.
Afcon-winner Youcef Atal, another one of the continent’s rising stars, netted the winner for OGC Nice as they dispatched Dijon 2-1 at the Allianz Riviera, while substitute Casimir Ninga made history with a hat-trick for Angers in their 4-1 rout of Saint-Etienne.
In coming off the bench to score three goals, the Chad international became the first substitute since Ireneusz Jelen for Auxerre in 2007 to hit a hat-trick during a Ligue 1 game.
In the weekend’s blockbuster bout, Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting led the line for Paris Saint-Germain in the absence of Kylian Mbappe and Edinson Cavani, but it was Neymar who struck the winner against Olympique Lyonnais — netting in the 87th minute as the reigning champions overcame another hurdle.