Guardiola defends Man City's 'respectful' Mahrez pursuit

City's Raheem Sterling (right) and Leicester's Riyad Mahrez during their teams' Feb 10, 2018 match. PHOTO: REUTERS

MANCHESTER, United Kingdom (AFP) - Pep Guardiola has defended Manchester City following complaints from Leicester manager Claude Puel over their pursuit of Riyad Mahrez.

Puel criticised City this week, claiming the wealthy Premier League leaders had shown his side a lack of respect as they tried to push through a dramatic bid for the winger in last month's transfer window.

French boss Puel was angered, particularly, by what he saw as City leaving it until the last moment to show their hand, unsettling a player who then declined to show up for training with Leicester for 10 days.

City's response was a briefing in which they claimed to have acted above board and to have been openly negotiating with their rivals for a week before the window closed.

And while Manchester City manager Guardiola did not want to be dragged into the controversy, he defended his club's behaviour.

"The club made a statement and always tries to do the best for us, and of course respecting the opponents," Guardiola told reporters on Friday (Feb 16).

City's desire to push through a move for the skilful Algerian was heightened last month by injuries to attackers Leroy Sane and Gabriel Jesus, although the former made a swift return from his ankle problem and played in the impressive midweek Champions League win in Basel.


Now, Jesus, who has not played in 2018 due to a knee injury, has returned to first-team training and could be in contention for a dramatic recall for the League Cup Final with Arsenal a week on Sunday.

"Today, he is going to play in part of the session with the group," he said. "It's good news.

"I don't know when he'll be ready definitely to be with us, with the team, but the first step is they made one or two weeks training alone and today is the first with the team," the Spaniard added.

German international Sane, meanwhile, returned from his injury at least a month ahead of schedule and his appearance in Switzerland, where City recorded a superb 4-0 victory, was a welcome boost even if Guardiola still expects more from his winger.

"He played 20 minutes with the ball okay, without the the ball not perfect," he said.

"He has to be involved with and without the ball, he can do it. We'll give him the passes, the problems we had with the strikers, we need all four them, it's important to have him back."

Guardiola's next challenge is the visit to third tier Wigan in Monday's fifth round FA Cup tie, ahead of the League Cup Final six days later and, with so many players returning from injury, the City manager is optimistic he will not need to rotate his squad too heavily between fixtures.

"It depends (on time) between the games. he said.

"Between the game in Basel, we had six days and then we'll have six days until the final, they can recover.

"So we'll see, we've another two or three sessions."

Longer term, Guardiola can also look forward to a place in the last eight of the Champions League after the midweek win, one of a number of excellent results for English clubs, which also saw Tottenham draw at Juventus and Liverpool enjoy a 5-0 victory away to Porto.

"Now I feel English being in this competition, I feel part of this league," said the former Barcelona and Bayern Munich manager.

"It's great news they got great results and we will see what Manchester United and Chelsea do next week.

"Of the three teams, two almost qualified and Tottenham got a great result, though they must perform again."

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