Pep Guardiola asserts Riyad Mahrez has the quality to force himself back into City’s starting XI.

The Algerian last started a game in the 5-0 FA Cup triumph over Burnley and has made just two appearances from the bench since.

However, Guardiola insists there is ‘no special reason’ why the midfielder has not featured much recently, adding that he is pleased with the way Mahrez is applying himself in training.

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“It’s my reason – I am the reason,” he stated. “He’s not guilty and there’s no special reason.

“I am sad because he is training incredibly and he is a talented player, but with Leroy Sane, Bernardo Silva and Raheem Sterling in top form, that is the reason.

“It’s not easy for a guy who is not playing regularly to come in and play at a high level. Give him six games and he will be at their level. I have no doubts about his quality.

“Fight more and more – his time is coming. I am sure he is going to play well.

“He is a good guy and we are happy with it. I am not kind with him because he deserves more minutes. I’m sorry.”

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Guardiola also reserved praise for Oleks Zinchenko, who returned to the starting line-up in Sunday’s 6-0 thrashing of Chelsea, and Benjamin Mendy, who has struggled to return to full fitness since undergoing knee surgery in November.

“All the time Oleks plays, he plays well,” he added. “He had a few problems and was out for a few weeks but always, he’s good.

“I admire the fact that he isn’t playing in his natural position.

“He has played against Eden Hazard, Willian, Shakhtar Donetsk, and it has always been a good level.”

On Mendy, he continued: “I said many times: we miss him. I miss him.

“He brings something special but he’s been a long time injured. We cannot complain too much but he is our only natural player in that position.

“We miss him but we can’t cry that he isn’t there.

“He is getting much better but he still didn’t train with us on Friday. His injury is what it is.”