Pep Guardiola says he is "sad" and "sorry" that Manchester City record signing Riyad Mahrez has not started a Premier League match since the end of December.
Mahrez joined from Leicester for £60 million last summer and was ultimately the Premier League champions' only senior signing, after a move for Jorginho collapsed.
The Algerian started to find his feet in Guardiola's side in the autumn, but found games harder to come by over Christmas and has virtually vanished from the Premier League set-up in the past six weeks.
Guardiola picked the 27-year-old for all four games in the FA Cup and Carabao Cup in January, but left him out of the match day squad to face Huddersfield and kept him on the bench against Liverpool, Wolves, Newcastle and Everton.
Guardiola was initially coy when asked why Mahrez has not played, before insisting that the winger has done nothing wrong and is not upset, although he did urge him to "keep going and not complain too much".
"Yeah, I have a reason," Guardiola said at his press conference. Pressed further, he continued: "My reason. I am the reason. I am the reason. He is not absolutely guilty or he doesn’t feel any special reason why.
"I am sad because he is training incredibly, he is an incredibly talented player but in this moment we have five strikers, for example the last games Leroy [Sane] hasn’t played either. We have incredible players, like for example Bernardo [Silva] and Raz [Sterling] are in top, top form and that is the only reason why, there’s no particular reason, like being upset or something like that.
"He is a guy we are happy with, but unfortunately I am not kind with him, in the fact I cannot give him the minutes he deserves, so I’m sorry, that’s all I can say."
Guardiola also insists that had Mahrez been given a consistent run of games, he would be performing at the same high level as his team-mates.
"I am unfair in the fact that if he had played the minutes that the others had played he would have been in the top level like the players who are playing," he added.
"It’s not easy for one guy who does not play regularly to come in and play at a high, high level. He has a level but give him five or six games in a row playing he is going to play at the level of Sterling or Bernardo or the players who play, because in two months when we played four or five games in a row he was incredible, outstanding.
"I don’t have any doubts about his quality, just to keep going, not complain too much, move forward and fight more and more and more, his time is coming. It’s coming and I’m pretty sure he is going to play good."
Guardiola also says he "misses" Benjamin Mendy's presence in the City team, but says he cannot "cry" about it given how they have replaced him and continued to fight for trophies.
Mendy is now nearing a fresh comeback from a knee injury, having made a 27-minute outing in the Carabao Cup semi-final at the end of January, only to miss the next five games.
He will not feature against Newport in the FA Cup on Saturday although Goal understands he will return to full training next week.
"I said many times we miss him, I miss him," the Catalan said. "He gives us something special, but he has been a long time injured and he cannot come back and immediately play, he has to be in the rhythm of what we want to do.
"But at the same time in these two seasons we cannot complain too much, in the sense that we solved it, with Fabian [Delph], with Oleks [Zinchenko], with Danilo and another solution with Ayme [Laporte], but of course he’s the only natural player in that position and hopefully he comes back.
"We miss him but we cannot be crying because he is not there. We have to move forward, wait for him, [he has to] prepare himself and come back, he will be fit, understand what we want to do and fight for his mate to take his position."