By many accounts, Riyad Mahrez was not just back to his fine-playing ways in his King Power Stadium return on Friday but a veritable Man of the Match.
[ MORE: American debuts as Chelsea tops Hull ]
Leicester knocked Sheffield United out of the FA Cup and moved into the quarterfinals on a Jamie Vardy goal, but it was their Algerian wizard pulling the strings in his first home match since Deadline Day drama saw him leave the team.
Foxes boss Claude Puel has talked up Mahrez since early in his tenure at King Power, and hasn’t stopped just because the player is unsettled. From the BBC:
“The most important thing in the game was the fans supported Riyad and when I replaced him, it was a good feeling with the fans. It’s important to stay united about this, it’s a good thing and we can move on.
“The situation is behind us, it’s important to look forward. Now we have two home games in the Premier League and it’s important to get the support of the fans. We need to come back in the Premier League with conviction.”
Seventh place in the Premier League and a possible spot in the Europa League remain possible for the Foxes, who are just a point behind Burnley and reasonably sizing up Everton as a more legit combatant for the slot.
An FA Cup win would be another route to Europe, and many of the Foxes are still quite familiar with giant killing. Mahrez being committed and back in the picture could be huge.
Reports out of Turkey say Newcastle United have finally struck the transfer market for a new No. 10.
[ MORE: West Ham adds Diop ]
Aksam reports that Rafa Benitez got the Magpies hierarchy to activate a near $12 million release clause for Besiktas midfielder Oguzhan Ozyakup.
The 25-year-old was part of Arsenal’s youth set-up until 2012, making two League Cup appearances in 2011-12 before moving to Besiktas.
Dutch-born Ozyakup is 35-times capped with a goal for Turkey, twice captaining the Crescent-Stars.
Ozyakup lost playing time to Talisca this season, and registered just four assists in 24 appearances. In 219 appearances for Besiktas, he’s posted 27 goals with 50 assists.
Like the move for Newcastle?
Manchester United and Belgium striker Romelu Lukaku has an inspiring and emotional post in The Players’ Tribune which tugs at the heart strings and explains his competitive fire.
[ MORE: West Ham adds Diop ]
Lukaku talks about how his family’s poverty caused him to become a fierce competitor in the hopes of meeting his dreams head-on and providing for his family.
The Belgian, 25, scored twice in his side’s 3-0 World Cup-opening win over Panama earlier this week, and is now far removed from his youth, but he tells his story as if it lives fresh in his mind.
From The Players’ Tribune:
There were even times when my mum had to “borrow” bread from the bakery down the street. The bakers knew me and my little brother, so they’d let her take a loaf of bread on Monday and pay them back on Friday.
Lukaku also talks about racism in football, his debut for Anderlecht, and that aforementioned competitive drive. It’s 100 percent worth the read.
West Ham has reportedly set a club record with its latest signing under new manager Manuel Pellegrini.
Issa Diop is the player, the 21-year-old Toulouse captain and center back costing the Irons around $29 million.
[ MORE: Arsenal signs Leno ]
Diop scored three goals with an assist and eight yellow cards in 31 Ligue 1 matches this season, giving the young defender 95 apps, six goals, three assists, and 23 yellows since debuting with the senior team at 18.
Capped by France at every level below the senior team, Diop’s 2.2 interceptions per game ranked sixth in Ligue 1.
Toulose finished 18th in Ligue 1, but won its promotion/relegation playoff to stay in the French top flight.
“I am very happy to sign for such a historic, English club, and I hope to show my best here. I am a very ambitious player and West Ham is a very ambitious club, as we’ve seen with the appointment of the new coach. I hope to help the team win lots of games and make the fans happy.”
In the third episode of Layla’s Occasionally Unbiased Football Show, England pulls out a massive win while VAR finds its way into the World Cup spotlight.
[ LIVE: World Cup scores ]
There will be plenty more to come over the next few weeks, with the show coming via the Men In Blazers.
Click play on the video above to watch the first episode in full.