Riyad Mahrez has been challenged by boss Claudio Ranieri to match the insatiable appetite for glory shown by Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi.
Leicester ’s Algerian winger has failed to rediscover the form that last season saw him crowned PFA Player of the Year and African Footballer of the Year and also get short-listed for the prestigious FIFA Ballon d’Or.
Mahrez scored 17 goals and had 11 assists in City’s title triumph but this season he has netted just three times with only two assists to his name as Leicester flirt with the drop zone.
Boss Ranieri even started him on the bench in the 2-0 defeat by Everton on Boxing Day after questioning the star’s efforts in training.
But the Italian this week took the unusual step of confirming that Mahrez will start against West Ham on New Year’s Eve, and urged him to take a close look at the world’s best.
Ranieri said: “Ronaldo and Messi won the the Golden Ball and they want to win again and win again. They are always looking forward.
“Riyad won a lot of things last season, but it is not right if he is satisfied with that.
“Now he has to improve. Now he has to try to win the Ballon d’Or, like the big players.
“I need more from all the important players and for us Riyad is one of the most important players. When Riyad is switched on everything is fantastic.”
Ranieri was critical of Mahrez in the aftermath of the champions’ defeat by Everton, saying: “He’s not in good form now and I wanted to stimulate him, I want more.”
But Ranieri later insisted he had Mahrez on the bench because he was tired from the 2-2 draw at Stoke nine days earlier, in which Leicester battled back from 2-0 down at half-time despite playing for more than an hour with 10 men following striker Jamie Vardy’s dismissal.
Ranieri added: “The fantasy players sometimes need more rest to recharge their batteries.
“Now Mahrez will start the next match (at home against the Hammers) and we will see his reaction.
“I am waiting for a very good Riyad. I have to choose when is the best moment to give someone a rest as players are not machines.
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“Against Stoke we worked for one hour, 10 men versus 11, and Riyad worked so hard. Of course during the next week I watched all my players and I watched him seem a little tired and not so smart. I said maybe he needs a little rest.
“It wasn’t for stimulation, it was to recover a little. But then after the first half against Everton I said, ‘OK, now he can play.’”
Leicester’s Thai owners are set to miss Saturday’s game to go on annual holiday.
Club officials revealed the Srivaddhanaprabha family will miss Leicester’s next three games but insist it is not connected to their Premier League struggles.
Foxes are just three points above the drop zone with just four wins from 18 Premier League games.