Watford fans will finally get to see an Algerian cult hero start a Premier League game on Saturday, ending an agonising six-month wait. Yet, regrettably for the fully-paid up members of the Adlene Guedioura fan club, it won’t be the one they have been longing to see lung bust in a yellow shirt. All eyes will instead be on Riyad Mahrez, the Will-o’-the-wisp playmaker in whose magical feet Leicester City’s remarkable and unlikely title bid largely rests.
Mahrez, 25, and Guedioura, 30, were teammates in Algeria’s 7-0 hiding of Tanzania in the Africa World Cup qualification tie in November yet the fact Guedioura has not made the Watford squad for the last two league games and has not played a minute of Premier League football since he trotted off the bench with ten to go against Manchester City at the start of January, means the chances of them going head to head tomorrow in the 5.30pm KO are virtually non existent.
Guedioura will admire the silky skills of Mahrez from the stands and, you guess, seek out his countryman after the game.
“He’s really good,” Guedioura told us. “Especially when he played with us in the national team. He always scores or gives an assist. He’s a pure instinct footballer. As a spectator you enjoy watching him. He has some great skill and is a kind of typical Algerian footballer; they like to do tricks and skill. This is what we use to love about Zidane.”
Watford kept Mahrez relatively quiet in the 2-1 defeat at the King Power stadium in November, a result of the way the team was set up to reduce the space he can operate in rather than detail a man marker.
“Vardy and Mahrez are really dangerous but we never plan for individuals,” said Quique Sanchez Flores. “We always plan for the team.”
Watford’s head coach at least has one less key opposition player to worry about as N’Golo Kante – “the best in the league at recuperating balls”, according to Sanchez Flores – will be missing from the Leicester teamsheet for a second successive match with a hamstring problem.
In fact, Watford posed the Foxes more problems in the corresponding fixture and Claudio Ranieri was forced into a tactical half-time switch, bringing on Shinji Okazaki for Jeffrey Schlupp. Afterwards, Ranieri told Sanchez Flores, the man who replaced him at Valencia, he struggled to get to grips with how Etienne Capoue and Ben Watson were operating in the first 45.
“I love Ranieri,” said Sanchez Flores. “I love this kind of coach. He’s a good coach but also a very nice man.”
The intriguing clash at Vicarage Road also pitches two more national teammates against each other. Christian Fuchs played at left-back and Sebastian Prodl was at centre-half in Austria’s last match, the 2-1 friendly defeat against Switzerland in November.
“We stay in contact,” said Prodl. “I will text him before the match. I’ll tell him to play easy,” he joked. “But we’ll meet after the game because our national team coach will be at the stadium to watch the match.”