Riyad Mahrez has insisted he has no intention of leaving Manchester City this season after he emerged as an unlikely hero in their title-winning victory over Brighton.
Mahrez helped to secure a second consecutive Premier League title for his club by scoring a sensational third goal for City at the Amex.
The strike represented a rare high point in a difficult season for the Algerian, who joined from Leicester City last summer for a club-record £60m.
Mahrez has been unhappy with his lack of first-team opportunities this campaign, with reports earlier this season that he was openly complaining at City’s training ground.
But he said he has accepted that not playing every match is “part of the game” as he vowed to fight for his place in Pep Guardiola’s side next season.
“It is not easy to come to a team who are settled, who have players who play,” said Mahrez. “That squad did everything last season.
“I knew it would not be easy in my first year but I am very confident in myself and have no doubts about my quality. I knew that when I had my chance I would take it. I scored at Brighton and helped the team.
“I am very happy here. I am not going somewhere else because I don’t play. It’s part of the game. I need to be strong, stay strong. It’s part of my personality, I never hide away from things.”
Mahrez’s form since his much-hyped move has been one of the few disappointing aspects of City’s season. Sunday’s victory at Brighton was only his fourth start in the Premier League since the turn of the year, and many of his goals have come in thrashings of lower-level teams.
The 28-year-old also missed a late penalty against Liverpool at Anfield that threatened to be one of the defining moments of the season, although he did score vital winners away to Tottenham Hotspur and Bournemouth.
Asked if the penalty miss ever crossed his mind, Mahrez said: “No. Of course if I scored we would have had two more points but in some games I scored and we won 1-0. So we are not going to count everything. It’s about what we did.”
City will be hopeful that Mahrez can follow the lead of Bernardo Silva, his team-mate, in thriving in his second season under Guardiola’s management. Silva has enjoyed a magnificent campaign but he was less effective last season, his first after signing from Monaco.
Mahrez, however, believes comparisons should not be drawn with the Portuguese. “It’s different,” he said. “Bernardo arrived from France and I had done a lot of things in this league already. Of course it was not easy for him in his first season, like for me it’s not easy, but it’s not a comparison.”
City will now turn their attention towards this weekend’s FA Cup final before strengthening their squad again this summer. Victory at Wembley would secure an unprecedented domestic treble for Guardiola’s side.
“I’m very, very happy,” said Mahrez of his second title, to add to the trophy he lifted with Leicester City in 2016. “It’s an amazing feeling. I think we deserved to win it, but we have to give credit to Liverpool and thank them because they are an amazing team as well. We were a bit better, 98 points over 97.
“It was very tough. It wasn’t easy. We stayed focused, played our games like we do every time. We never change our plans. That made the difference.
“198 points in two seasons, what can you say? I hope we're going to do the treble. We're going to enjoy first the double and then we'll see.”
City's players were under an 11pm curfew on Sunday night, with manager Pep Guardiola keen to ensure the title celebrations did not get out of hand with the FA Cup final still to play on Saturday.
Guardiola's squad and staff enjoyed a homecoming party with fans at the Etihad Stadium following their 4-1 win at Brighton but the celebrations stopped short of continuing into the early hours as Guardiola targets an unprecedented domestic treble.
The City manager does not want any drop off in fitness or concentration before Saturday's assignment against Watford at Wembley and, while the players were granted a day off on Monday, they were due back in for training on Tuesday as preparations begin for the Cup final. City will hold a celebration parade in Manchester next Monday.