Pep Guardiola praying City players return from international duty ‘fit and safe’

Pep Guardiola admits he does not even want to think about the impact the forthcoming international break could have on his Manchester City squad.

City have had a difficult start to the season with injuries and positive Covid-19 tests compounding problems of fatigue and a general lack of match fitness after their shortened summer break and limited pre-season preparations.

With a batch of international fixtures coming up after Sunday’s Premier League clash with Liverpool, there is little respite for players in an intense schedule. There may also be concerns about players travelling individually amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Sergio Aguero has featured little for City this season due to injury
Sergio Aguero has featured little for City this season due to injury

“Honestly, I don’t want to think about it,” said City manager Guardiola, who lost Kevin De Bruyne to injury for two games after the October international break.

“I want after the game against Liverpool – for which everyone is completely focused – some days off.

“We will pray like, I think, all the managers, when 13 to 14 players go with their international teams, that they will come back fit and safe.

“But, at the same time, I don’t want to think about it. What is going to happen is going to happen.”

One player Guardiola feels needs a rest is Raheem Sterling, but his form and importance to the City side have largely prevented that so far.

Raheem Sterling is a crucial player for Guardiola
Raheem Sterling is a crucial player for Guardiola

The forward has started 10 of City’s 11 games in all competitions this season and he is also likely to be in action for England in the next fortnight.

Guardiola said of the 25-year-old: “I think he is a better player than when he arrived and hopefully in four years he will be a better player than he is right now. I think he is an exceptional player.

“He has played all these minutes because of his physicality and (on Sunday) he will be there again.

“Of course there will be a moment that he will take a rest but at the moment he is so important a player for us, that’s why we cannot give it.”

Sterling, who joined City from Liverpool in 2015, has developed into one of the game’s top talents under Guardiola.

Should he continue to improve he could invite comparisons with the very best but Guardiola does not want him to get carried away.

He said: “My advice, I would say to him, is don’t think about this. It makes no sense. Just enjoy the life, focus and destiny will dictate who he is as a player.

“But he is one of the (most) fantastic players I ever had in my career as a manager.

“Step by step. It depends on him and his performance.”