Manchester (United Kingdom) (AFP) – Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola wants Riyad Mahrez to make his Leicester return against the Premier League leaders on Saturday despite continued speculation linking the Algerian to City.
Mahrez returned to training on Friday having spent nine days away from the Foxes without permission following Leicester’s refusal of City’s reported offer of £50 million plus a player.
His refusal to train has cost Mahrez a fine of £240,000 ($334,000), but Leicester boss Claude Puel has insisted he will welcome the unsettled midfielder back into his plans.
Guardiola hopes that Puel can find a way to include Mahrez in his squad, though, arguing that it will be a better game if he plays.
“I hope he will play. I want him to come back soon and play, because we enjoy watching him. I hope he’ll come back soon with Leicester and play at his level.”
City launched their offensive for Mahrez after Leroy Sane was ruled out until mid-March with an ankle injury ligament sustained during an FA Cup fourth-round victory at Cardiff.
The German added to a growing number of injury absentees which provoked Guardiola to name only six of a possible seven substitutes for last weekend’s 1-1 draw at Burnley which saw City’s lead at the top of the Premier League cut to 13 points.
The Catalan coach’s decision brought some stinging criticism, particularly from Sky pundit and former Manchester United captain Gary Neville, who believed Guardiola should have offered the chance of a matchday experience on the bench to one of City’s many talented academy prospects.
However, the return of John Stones and Phil Foden will ensure that Guardiola has at least a full compliment of substitutes to call on at the Etihad.
“We will have 18 players tomorrow, so Gary Neville can be happy,” added Guardiola.
City’s players returned to training on Wednesday, having been given three days off by Guardiola after the Burnley game.
The former Barcelona boss believes that such a break will help his players as they face four matches across four competitions during the rest of February.
Saturday’s match against Leicester will be followed by a Champions League last 16 first-leg trip to Switzerland to face Basel on Tuesday, an FA Cup fifth-round trip to League One leaders Wigan the following Monday, and the Carabao Cup final against Arsenal at Wembley on February 25.
“We will see if the rest works. If we win, it’s good, and if not then people will ask why did we do it. We needed it,” said Guardiola.
“We’ve had a lot of games since August, with just one midweek off. We have had three training sessions and we are ready to come back now.
“We love to play football but we’ve been playing in four competitions, every three or four days, over the past two to three months. Sometimes a break is good, and you come back strong. Everybody got a rest.”
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