Has unhappy Mahrez been given the Sane treatment by Pep?

Comments()
Getty Images
The Algerian has been frustrated with his lack of game time of late, after being left out altogether for Manchester City's win at Huddersfield

Pep Guardiola's terse response was something of a giveaway. Asked about Riyad Mahrez's absence from the Manchester City squad at Huddersfield, the Catalan had just four words in total. 

"Rotation, tactical decision," he offered. Any particular reason? "No."

And that was it. Usually there is a lengthy reason, outlining why everybody deserves to play, and that he feels sad or unfair for leaving somebody out altogether.

Guardiola knows how to say just enough without saying too much when he has an issue with one of his players; he did it with Sergio Aguero, Benjamin Mendy and, to a lesser extent, Leroy Sane, and it appears to be the case with Mahrez now.

Sources close to the City squad have told Goal that the Algerian has complained about his lack of playing time of late. 

The City boss said on Tuesday that team selection and keeping everybody happy is "the hardest part" of his job, though the burden is not entirely on his shoulders; earlier this season, he told his players they have to be happy in training or they'll be out.

"Everybody plays," Guardiola argued. "There's not one guy with more than two or three games without minutes. They have to show me what they can do and, after that, I make a selection."

So, the players must grin and bear it if they have a problem and perhaps Mahrez is not quite there at the moment.

Guardiola quote

City's club record signing started against both Burton and Rotherham in the cup competitions at the start of January but has not featured in the Premier League since the win at Southampton over Christmas.

He was left on the bench against Liverpool and Wolves and left out completely at Huddersfield on Sunday.

Members of the City squad have become aware of Mahrez's discontent in the past couple of weeks and expect him to start at Burton on Wednesday night, as Guardiola fields a team comprising youth team prospects and players in need of game time.

On Tuesday, Guardiola was asked about whether players have been especially unhappy about being left out of matches in recent weeks, but he instead protested that everybody, with the exception of Fabian Delph, who was banned, has been given plenty of opportunities and that they should be happy.

Yet that does not answer the question whether players feel grateful for those opportunities or not.

"I have an incredible squad," Guardiola said last week after Kevin De Bruyne was named on the bench against Wolves. 

"If Kevin plays it's because he deserves to play. [Ilkay] Gundogan made six or seven assists in the last two games but didn't play today. Both deserve to play. 

"Bernardo deserves to play, Dinho for what he has done against Liverpool. It is what it is. Today one of my favourite players, Phil [Foden], was in the stands but there are a lot of games.

"Maybe next game new players are going to play, but they have to be ready. They have to know that they have to play good, because if not another one is going to play."

Even when Sane was left out of the squad altogether back in September, with sources telling Goal the night before the game that the Germany international was being sent a message, Guardiola stood up for him in public. 

Guardiola quote

"Last game Phil Foden was not in the squad," the Catalan said at the time. "We were so sad for Phil like I am sad for Leroy now.

"But sometimes I have to leave one out because we have six strikers and I decided to play with two strikers, we have two wingers plus another one on the bench so that's why we decided for this game he would not be there."

It was completely fair logic, even if it was not completely honest. 

But there wasn't even any of that on Sunday and given Foden, the man who usually misses out, was on the bench in Mahrez's place, it shows that something is not quite right.

Guardiola even said on Tuesday that he has told his players this month that if they are not happy they should go to see the club's sporting director and arrange a transfer elsewhere, although there is no suggestion Mahrez's situation is anywhere near as dramatic as that.

Article continues below

It wasn't with Sane, either. Guardiola simply felt the Germany international needed a kick up the backside to correct his focus and the winger, to his credit, has responded brilliantly to his spell on the sidelines.

Aided by Mendy's injury, Sane has nailed down his place in the City team and is one of the most in-form players in the league once again.

That is the challenge that now faces Mahrez.

Close