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Mahrez or Aubameyang: Who has the more optimistic outlook for 2023?

09:56 GMT+3 08/01/2023
Aubameyang, Mahrez - Chelsea, Manchester City 2022-23
The Manchester City and Chelsea forwards had mixed 2022s but what does the new year have in store for them?

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang must be cursing his luck at present, owing to his Chelsea situation which suggests that there is no light at the end of this dark tunnel.

2022 was a mixed year for the Gabonese but the New Year has not got off to the finest start either, evidenced by an anonymous showing against Nottingham Forest and Thursday’s ignominious withdrawal against Manchester City on Thursday.

Brought on after five minutes against Pep Guardiola’s crew, the former Barcelona forward was withdrawn 63 minutes later. And he was not happy to come off.

“He came on after one minute, hadn’t played for a while, and put in an absolute shift for us given Manchester City make you run a lot,” Graham Potter told reporters after the 1-0 defeat by Guardiola’s men. “I thought he did everything he could for the team. He was fatiguing a little bit, same as Hakim [Ziyech], so that was the decision.

“We needed a little bit of energy, so I thought we could use Omari, Conor [Gallagher], and Lewis [Hall]. Of course, players want to stay on the pitch and influence the game. It’s a normal reaction.”

Apart from a decent time with Barcelona, last year was frustrating for Aubameyang, whose run without scoring now stands at 10 games. Just when he seemed to be putting down roots in Catalonia, Robert Lewandowski was acquired by the Blaugrana, effectively meaning the former Arsenal captain was second fiddle to the Poland superstar.

Only months after he was declared persona non grata in North London, the experienced marksman knew the clock was ticking on his time at Camp Nou. A reunion with Thomas Tuchel at Chelsea offered promise but no sooner had the former Borussia Dortmund striker moved to Stamford Bridge than the 2021 Champions League-winning manager was jettisoned.

That did not seem to bother Potter or Aubameyang, with the 33-year-old scoring on his Premier League debut for the club at Crystal Palace before following that up with a goal each in the double-header with AC Milan in October.

With three goals in three starts, Auba looked to have settled in West London. But that impressive finish at San Siro has given way for a 10-game run without scoring, and there is seemingly no end in sight.

Contrast this with Riyad Mahrez, who also had a varied 2022 but has looked decisive for Manchester City again since the World Cup hiatus.

Last year was a mixed bag for the wide attacker, who suffered an ignominious group-stage exit at the Africa Cup of Nations with Algeria. Many had tipped the Fennecs to retain their crown, but they could not even win a game in Cameroon.

Two months later, the North Africans battled the Indomitable Lions for a World Cup berth and could be forgiven if travel arrangements to Qatar were on their minds when they had the aggregate lead over the Central African nation on their turf. In a cruel twist of fate, Cameroon dashed those hopes in the final minute of stoppage time in extra time.

Djamel Belmadi bellowed in frustration. Mahrez knew there would be no second World Cup appearance.

In hindsight, it is a shame Algeria missed out on the incredible experience that was Qatar 2022. With the support Morocco enjoyed, the Arab world might have had not one but two nations to cheer for during the finals.

Despite ending the 2022-23 season as a Premier League champion for the fourth time, the league campaign soured on an individual note for the wide attacker.

A missed Mahrez penalty in the campaign’s penultimate weekend at West Ham United took the title race to a final day, and his early withdrawal with the Citizens 2-0 down to Aston Villa was a sign of what was to come in the first half of 2022-23.

Guardiola and his crew claimed yet another league title, but their failure to see out what looked to be a comfortable advantage over Real Madrid in the Champions League semi-final was a disappointment.

The first half of the current season has consisted of different elements for the Algerian, whose underwhelming start perhaps went slightly unnoticed due to Erling Haaland taking to English football like a duck to water.

That said, the winger has looked decisive again since the intermission, scoring in the League Cup success over Liverpool, assisting Haaland in the 1-1 draw with Everton last weekend and scoring an important goal in Thursday’s vital win at Chelsea that reduced the gap at the top to five points.

Having come on against the Blues in midweek, there is a feeling Guardiola will opt for the 31-year-old from the off against Potter’s men at the Etihad Stadium. He netted in the 2-0 EFL Cup success over the West London side, thus motivating him to make it three in three on Sunday.

The same cannot be said for Aubameyang, who has struggled amid Chelsea’s wider creativity bugbear this season. Statistics show that the five-time PL champions have fashioned 27 clear-cut chances, placing them 14th in the division.

This is a significant drop-off from 2020-21 and 2021-22, where the Blues created the fourth-highest volume of cig chances in the division.

The Gabonese marksman has always relied upon service to thrive, evidenced by his brief Barcelona success after struggling in the final months in North London. But continued creativity problems at Stamford Bridge mean this could continue for a while.

That said, there has to be some mitigation for Auba’s struggles. The unabating injury problems at Cobham mean Potter has seldom had time with the club’s best players for an extended period, meaning on-field relationships have not been built.

This might change in the final months of the campaign when Chelsea’s best players return, and there is a possible splurge on much-needed final-third quality this month.

For Auba, it is simple: create a stream of chances, and the goals are going to flow. Fail to fashion opportunities, and you are left with an isolated attacker who appears limited when he is not finding the back of the net.

Mahrez has a more optimistic outlook for 2023. But the situation could change for the forlorn Chelsea striker if Potter finds solutions to their inconsistent chance creation.