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John Brewin profile picture  By John Brewin

While other transfer targets nurse injuries or sit out, Mahrez plays on

Paul Mariner says Liverpool's rejection of Barca's bid for Coutinho sends a message to fans about the club's intentions.

With the transfer window ongoing, a feature of the early weeks of this Premier League season has been the way several clubs have been affected by situations surrounding the future of star names. 

Liverpool really do not want to sell Coutinho and Barcelona have now admitted defeat. Meanwhile, Arsenal's Sanchez will see out his contract and stay until at least next summer, according to Arsene Wenger, and Van Dijk desperately wants to leave Southampton but they won't let him. 

None of that trio has yet kicked a ball in the 2017-18 campaign. Coutinho and Sanchez are recovering from back and abdominal injuries respectively, while Van Dijk's absence is being put down to a lack of mental readiness. Regardless of the reasons, such absences have still complicated the start to the season of the players' clubs. 

By contrast, Leicester City's Riyad Mahrez put in a transfer request on May 30 and yet has begun the campaign in the same form that made him a deserving PFA Player of the Year for the 2015-16 season. 

While Sanchez sat out the Premier League's opening contest -- Arsenal's 4-3 defeat of Leicester -- Mahrez reminded everyone just how effective he can be and his thrilling wing play helped pin back Wenger's team, with whom he has been linked over the summer.

On Saturday, with Leicester colleague Danny Drinkwater in the stands nursing a thigh problem amid interest from Chelsea, Mahrez starred in a 2-0 win against Brighton & Hove Albion, setting up Shinji Okazaki for the opener and delivering the corner from which Harry Maguire scored the second.

Leicester have turned down three attempts to buy from Roma and Monchi, the Italian club's sporting director, has stated that "the ball is in City's court," as there will be no improved offer. The final bid was a reported £32 million.

Unlike Van Dijk or Gylfi Sigurdsson, who was left out of Swansea's opening match before completing his move to Everton, Mahrez gave a rousing response to being asked to play no matter what his long-term ambition might be.

Craig Shakespeare & Riyad Mahrez
While other transfer targets have missed the season's opening weeks, Riyad Mahrez, right, has delivered for Leicester.

"When there's all the speculation, it's hard for players to get their heads round it,'' Leicester manager Craig Shakespeare said on Saturday. "For me, it should be quite easy. You perform and if you are asked to represent the football club that you are paid by, then you do that.'' 

"As soon as the whistle went you knew he was up for it," said full-back Danny Simpson, Mahrez's long-time partner down Leicester's right flank.

Meanwhile, Liverpool struggled for creativity without Coutinho in squeezing to a 1-0 home victory over Crystal Palace, Sanchez-less Arsenal failed to take their chances and lost 1-0 at Stoke and Southampton's defence, missing Van Dijk, buckled against 10-man West Ham only to escape with a last-gasp 3-2 victory.

Each of the affected club's managers, Wenger, Jurgen Klopp and Mauricio Pellegrino, was then forced to field uncomfortable questions about an individual who had played no part in those matches. "The situation is not easy for anyone," said Klopp.

There is a case for saying Mahrez has more to prove than Coutinho, Sanchez and Van Dijk, given the player Claudio Ranieri once called his "roadrunner" was one of those whose drop in form last season contributed to the Italian manager's fall from title-winning hero to being sacked by February.

Then again, considering his performances during that title triumph, when Mahrez played at a level of week-by-week match-winning consistency that has so far eluded both Coutinho and Sanchez in English football, he looks significantly undervalued by that £32m offer, considering the Liverpool midfielder was the subject of a £118m bid by Barcelona and Sanchez could still cost as much as £60-70m, despite his ebbing contract.

Leicester know they could still lose Mahrez -- Shakespeare admitted his "worst fear is that an acceptable bid comes in" -- but the player looked happy enough when celebrating Saturday's victory with his teammates. Should he ultimately leave, at least fans have something further to remember him by, rather than never again seeing a hero play before he exits. 

If Mahrez stays, then Leicester keep a player in form. Elsewhere, should Arsenal, Liverpool and Southampton retain their prized assets, they face deeper processes of reintegration.

Coutinho's rapprochement looks to have begun already with blame being levelled at Barcelona, while Wenger has confidence in Sanchez swiftly recovering his competitive zeal. For Van Dijk, reconciliation appears less straightforward but for all, as it has for Mahrez, playing football seems much the simplest way to mend any broken bridges.

John Brewin is a staff writer for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @JohnBrewinESPN.

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