Raheem Sterling says Manchester City players are being "butchered" and fears some could miss this summer's World Cup as a result.
Leroy Sane is out of action for around two months after being fouled by Cardiff City's Joe Bennett last weekend, while Kevin De Bruyne and Brahim Diaz were lucky to avoid injury following poor challenges by West Brom duo James McClean and Matt Phillips three days later.
De Bruyne has suffered three further poor challenges, two against Crystal Palace on New Year's Eve and one against Tottenham in December, and Sterling himself was also caught by a nasty Harry Kane lunge in that Spurs game.
Bernardo Silva said on Wednesday that he felt City players are being targeted, and Sterling has now joined Blues boss Pep Guardiola in calling for referees to better protect players from what the England man brands "awful".
“I find it a bit unfair at times," he told the Premier League. "I feel that we haven’t been protected enough in certain situations. I think some of the challenges have been awful. It’s not what I expect to see in a top flight football match - especially when teams are losing and just go out to kick players.
"I don’t think that’s right. I do think we need to cut down on that because we’ve got a World Cup at the end of the year and majority of the players in the top flight and in our team will be playing in it and it would be sad to see someone miss the tournament due to a silly tackle and someone get away with it.
"These tackles can happen - but it can’t be every game we’re getting two players coming in with injuries. There are going to be challenges that are badly timed and probably not all of them are intentional but at the same time if it’s a dangerous tackle, it’s a dangerous tackle and I think the referees and officials need to cut these tackles out because as you can see some of the players are getting butchered, butchered out there and it’s sad to see. But I just feel we need to try and cut this out of the game.”
He added in an interview with Talk Sport: "Especially if it's a high tackle, when the studs are up. some of the tackles in the last few games should have been straight reds, maybe the refs didn't see it at the time but it can't continue for the rest of the season."
Sterling has played a major role in City's impressive season so far, with 19 goals to his name in all competitions, and he has credited Guardiola with the improvement in his scoring output and overall performances.
“He's completely helping with the basics, helping me to become more ruthless," the 23-year-old added in his Premier League interview. "That’s what I’m trying to do. He and his coaching staff help with that. It’s been a great environment for me to continue learning and that’s the most important thing that I’ve got, that environment and the people around that are helping with my education in football."
This is Sterling's best ever campaign in terms of goals and he puts his improved tally down to the simple fact he is spending more time in the opposition penalty area.
“Probably being in the box much more often, following things in and always trying to be around the box to try and sniff out a goal. [I would describe myself] not as a complete player, [but as] a player that’s learning, a player that’s loving his football at the moment. As I said it’s the environment that I’m in. I’m just loving it and hopefully that can keep happening. I’ve got plenty of room to grow. There’s fine things, little details that I need to sharpen up on. It’s something that I’m learning every day, that I’m trying to improve on and I’ll definitely get there.”
Sterling was called over to Guardiola's technical area after missing a presentable chance against West Brom in midweek, but instead of earning a rebuke he was embraced and given a kiss on the cheek.“It was a bit strange!" Sterling explained. "I didn’t think he was going to kiss me, I thought he was going to give me some advice so when he kissed me I was thinking a bit; “oh ok.” I knew I was going to get a bit of banter from the boys after as well. But it was alright."