Pep Guardiola promised that the goals would soon return and Riyad Mahrez was the Manchester City player to deliver on that pledge in the hammering of Burnley on Saturday afternoon.
City’s goal tally for the season rose by 50 per cent in just 90 minutes and this performance showed why their problems in front of goal was always going to be temporary rather than a permanent issue.
Only four days earlier, the Catalan said he was confident that “one day it will come and we will break everything”. His team had started to create chances – with 22 attempts in last weekend’s defeat at Tottenham and in the Champions League victory over Olympiacos.
A return of only one goal from those two games suggested shattered confidence in front of goal so all eyes were on the potential return of talismanic striker Sergio Aguero,
But with the Argentinian left out of the 5-0 victory over Burnley after suffering a “little disturbance in his knee” and with leading scorers Raheem Sterling and Phil Foden left on the bench, it was Mahrez who stepped up.
The Algerian forward has never been short of self-belief but that has sometimes brought its own problems. Mahrez has come under fire from some City fans on social media for his tendency to be too greedy.
There is no doubting his talent and that serves well him for his country where he is a revered superstar and it served him well at Leicester too, where he was the Player of the Year during their remarkable title-winning season.
But more than two years since his club-record move to the Etihad Stadium, the winger still splits opinion.
Under Guardiola, City have been a consistently good attacking unit, developing their own trademark goals which often come from pull-backs from the byline.
But Mahrez can often be his own man, mainly because of his own individual brilliance and self-confidence.
His unbelievable dribbling ability and outrageous shoulder drops mean he can create chances for himself, but when he doesn’t take them, it marks him out for criticism.
Before the win over Burnley, Mahrez had just one goal and one assist in 12 City appearances this season.
He finished the last campaign with two goals and two assists in 11.
With homegrown players like Foden and emerging star Ferran Torres pushing for regular starts, Mahrez is under pressure to make a more consistent contribution.
Of course, with Kevin De Bruyne in the side, City are always going to create chances and it was the Belgian that teed up Mahrez for the opener.
The second showcased Mahrez’s skills, although Kyle Walker’s clever quick throw-in gave him the space to do it. Burnley switched off as the winger sneaked into the box before he glided past two weak challenges and curled a delightful shot in off the post.
Benjamin Mendy and Torres extended City’s lead before Mahrez completed his hat-trick with a rare header from Foden’s cross.