Pep Guardiola has urged the “extraordinary” Raheem Sterling to seize his next opportunity to impress ahead of Sunday’s Carabao Cup final against Tottenham, live on Sky Sports.
The England forward has started just three of Manchester City’s last 10 matches as they chase silverware on multiple fronts.
Manager Guardiola insists the 26-year-old has not fallen out of favour at the Etihad Stadium but other players are simply in better form.
With City still in contention for three trophies and Euro 2020 also approaching, Guardiola feels there is plenty of time left for Sterling to shine this season.
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Guardiola said: “Raheem is an extraordinary player – he was, is and will be. The reason why he has not played as regularly as in previous seasons is because Phil (Foden) and Riyad (Mahrez) are in top, top form. That is the only reason.
“But opportunities are going to come and he has to be ready to show his quality, freshness in his mind and to play with the incredible strength he has.
“What happens with the international manager, I’m not involved, (but) I want the incredible players I have here to go in their national teams, absolutely. Him, Nathan (Ake), Eric (Garcia), John (Stones) – all the players who are here. It is a fantastic event to play in, the Euros.
“The quality is there and it is not a conversation where he doesn’t have confidence. After talking with me, he has confidence. Top-class players have to take the confidence for themselves to say, ‘I’m going to show what I am’. It’s the only secret.”
Sterling’s most recent appearance came in last weekend’s FA Cup semi-final loss to Chelsea at Wembley, a defeat which ended City’s bid for an unprecedented quadruple.
Sterling’s inclusion was one of eight changes Guardiola made for that game, which came just three days after his side’s Champions League quarter-final triumph at Borussia Dortmund.
Guardiola has a similar conundrum but in reverse as City return to the national stadium to face Tottenham in the Carabao Cup final on Sunday. They travel to play Paris St Germain in their European semi-final just three days later.
Guardiola is likely to make numerous changes across the two games but he is hurt by suggestions this might indicate a lack of respect for the domestic cups.
“When we lost against Chelsea I was asked whether I didn’t care about the competition and that offends me a lot,” said Guardiola, who has won the Carabao Cup for the past three years.
“Something we showed in these five years together is that every game we play to win the game.”
City are also closing in on a third Premier League title in four years and Guardiola feels his side have done remarkably well considering the difficult circumstances they have faced in this pandemic-hit season.
He said: “Ten months, 11 months, six press conferences a week, three games a week – it is a lot, it is too much. I never lived a year like this.
“We started later this season and we finished earlier but with the same competitions, the same games and the same demands for the club and fans to win and win and win.
“But it is not a complaint – it is a joy, a pleasure to go to the final and then go to Paris to play in the semi-finals of the Champions League.
“That’s why I’m incredibly impressed with what the players have done, I’m incredibly satisfied and grateful.”
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