The Algeria winger has not started a league game since December, but could feature in the FA Cup fifth round clash
Pep Guardiola says he is “sad” to keep benching Riyad Mahrez.
The Algeria winger has struggled for playing time since joining Manchester City in a £60million deal from Leicester last summer, having started just 10 league games for Guardiola’s side, with his last coming in a 3-1 win at Southampton in December.
He is behind Raheem Sterling, Bernardo Silva and Leroy Sane in the pecking order, but is likely to feature against Newport County in the FA Cup fifth-round on Saturday, which is live on talkSPORT.
When asked about Mahrez’s lack of first-team action, City boss Guardiola said: “I have a 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 in the last games Leroy hasn’t played.
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“We have incredible players, like for example Bernardo [Silva] and Raz [Raheem Sterling] 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.”
Mahrez has nine goals and six assists in a City shirt this term and Guardiola has trusted him in big games.
He has started against Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool, but missed a penalty late on in a goalless draw at Anfield in October.
Guardiola added: “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.
“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 if we 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.
“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.”