Pep Guardiola relies on Manchester City stars outdoing each other for the team to have success.
The effort has to be collective, but every single player has to know when they go out onto the pitch that if they want to keep their place in the team they have to perform better than any of their teammates would in their position.
If they slump below their usual standards, their reputation counts for little with someone else always waiting to come in and impress the manager.
There is the odd exception made for experience or rhythm, but generally speaking that is how it has to work: every player tries to stand out individually as much as possible by giving everything they can for the team whenever they get an opportunity, knowing that they can be replaced regardless of how well they think they’ve played.
As Guardiola said earlier this season comparing one of his youngest in the squad to one of the most senior: “I have to treat Cole Palmer the same as Kevin De Bruyne. Why should I treat them differently?”
Which brings us onto the Leicester game.
Riyad Mahrez had already scored a penalty against his beleaguered former club on Boxing Day – his 12th goal of the season to move five clear at the top of the club scoring charts – when the Blues were awarded another spot-kick.
Raheem Sterling had won the penalty though and, showing the confidence brought from three goals in his last three games, put forward his case to take it.
As the best taker, Mahrez was perfectly entitled to take it and had picked up the ball originally. But the fact that he selflessly allowed Sterling the chance to get on the scoresheet will have done him more good than if he had slapped in another goal himself.
It showed the meritocracy at City working as it should, with Mahrez rewarding the effort of his teammate and letting him take the responsibility that he wanted to.
Guardiola is appreciated by his players for putting together strategies to win them matches, but the manager can do very little once the game has started. It is down to those on the pitch to make the right actions, and Mahrez did exactly that on his final appearance at the Etihad before leaving for the African Cup of Nations.
When the Algerian returns from his international tournament, he can be confident that the generosity he showed against his former club will be returned in kind by his teammates.
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