Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola has shocked fans and pundits by leaving Leroy Sane out of his starting line-up for the first two Premier League games.
Sane was one of City’s best player during their record-breaking campaign last season and was voted the Premier League’s Young Player of The Year.
The German international is a nightmare to defend against due to his electric pace, immaculate ball control and terrific balance, making him one of the league’s best wingers.
Sane managed to get his name on the scoresheet ten times last term, whilst also assisting 15 goals as City stormed to the Premier League title.
However, he was left out of the German World Cup squad and even though he managed to score against Liverpool during their US tour, Guardiola saw that he was slightly off the pace during pre-season.
He said: “He needs more minutes and he needs to regain his principles in terms of playing without the ball. He has the talent to do that. Still, he is far away from his best.”
So, why has the 22-year-old only been given 17 minutes of top flight action so far this season?
Keeping him fresh for later in the season
One possible explanation could be that Guardiola is saving the pacey German for when the fixture list becomes congested.
Sane was given 14 minutes against Huddersfield Town and he showed why he is such an attacking weapon when he outpaced a defender to assist City’s sixth goal of the afternoon.
Guardiola knows that City will be challenging in four competitions this season, and it could be that the manager wants to keep Sane fresh and ready for a tough schedule.
Former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson was well-known for deploying a similar tactic with Park Ji-sung and it worked wonders for the Red Devils during long European away fixtures.
Sane also endured a slow start last season and only managed to score two goals in the first five league matches. His best form came deeper into the season and that could be his time to shine once again this year.
The return of Benjamin Mendy
French left-back Mendy almost missed the entire season last year with a knee injury, meaning that Sane’s attacking drive on the left flank was much needed.
Mendy has returned this campaign though, and that has led Guardiola to incorporate the full-back higher up the pitch, almost as a left winger.
The former Monaco defender has been one of City’s biggest attacking threats this season and has already registered three assists in just two matches.
With Mendy playing so far up on the left side, there’s not much need for Sane to play at the same time. Given the Frenchman’s fine form, it’s difficult to see Guardiola shift him further back to accommodate Sane.
Riyad Mahrez providing extra competition
City secured the signature of Mahrez for £60m over the summer to boost their attacking department and with so many options at his disposal, Guardiola knows that he must rotate his team.
Mahrez, who won the PFA Player of The Year award during Leicester City’s title winning season in 2015/16, started City’s first fixture against Arsenal.
Their quest for the quadruple was cut short last season as they suffered multiple injuries, leaving them with a very thin squad, with Guardiola even naming only six substitutes in a Carabao Cup match against Leicester.
Many of the first team players were required to play every three days which was taking its toll on them, but signing Mahrez gives the manager a chance to rotate his front line on a weekly basis.
Sane is still young and undoubtedly, City will be desperate to keep him at the club for the foreseeable future, but just as midfielder Bernardo Silva had to adjust and play as a wing-back in this new formation, the Germn must quickly adapt to the new demands of his manager if he is to break back into the starting line-up.
Bravo is facing a lengthy lay-off after rupturing an Achilles tendon in training.
The only other back-up City have to number one Ederson is 20-year-old local Academy product Daniel Grimshaw. Neither Muric nor Grimshaw have made a first-team appearance for City.
City have been linked with Diego Cavalieri, the former Liverpool reserve who is now a free agent after leaving Crystal Palace, but Guardiola said that is not being considered.
The City boss said: “From then beginning it was Aro, Aro – that was the only option.
“The transfer window is closed so we cannot buy. With players who have retired – maybe – but when we knew it was possible for Aro to come back the decision was quick.”
Muric is likely to go straight onto the bench as the champions face Wolves on Saturday.
“We know him,” said Guardiola. “Last season he trained with us all season and he knows the way we work. We loaned him because the second team is not a real competition. We wanted to see him play every weekend.”
City are still unsure how long Chile international Bravo will be out for but the 35-year-old has undergone successful surgery in Barcelona.
Guardiola said: “I don’t know – but the surgery was good and we’ll see.”
Bravo himself has tweeted some pictures of his foot in a bandage following his operation.
“Thank you so much affection and concern,” he wrote.
Buenos días a todos, muchas gracias por tanto cariño y preocupación, en forma especial a los niños y funcionarios de @teleton ❤️Aquí estoy recuperándome gracias a todas las muestras de esfuerzo y sacrificio que me demuestran día a día.#VamosMuchachosQueSePuede #NoRendirse💪🏻 pic.twitter.com/00WjJ8aUGq— Claudio Bravo Muñoz (@C1audioBravo) August 24, 2018
The injury to Bravo was the second such blow City suffered in the space of a week after playmaker Kevin De Bruyne sustained knee ligament damage.
Guardiola feels the lack of pre-season training some players had this summer as a result of the World Cup is affecting his squad.
Speaking at a press conference, Guardiola said: “We are not far away but we’re still not fit.
“We see how much time the players need for regeneration after games. Normally it is quicker. They need more time.
“This is because we didn’t make a pre-season. After three or four days we played the Community Shield. A few players are much better but others need more time to win power and strength.”
City captain Vincent Kompany this week celebrated the 10th anniversary of his arrival at the club and he is set to make his 250th Premier League appearance against Wolves at Molineux.
Guardiola said: “Happy anniversary. It’s a long time, it’s many games. Unfortunately in the last years it wasn’t more.
“I’ve no doubts about his quality. When he is fit he is an excellent central defender. He’s a big personality and he’s loved in the locker room.”
City were taken to a penalty shoot-out by then Championship Wolves in the Carabao Cup last season.
Guardiola said: “They destroyed the Championship last season. They had an incredible season and they play in an attractive way. We know from the beginning how tough it will be.”
Eden Hazard is in line for his first start of the season when Chelsea head to Newcastle on Sunday.
The Belgium World Cup star has come on as a second-half substitute in both matches so far, but boss Maurizio Sarri says he is now ready to play around 60 minutes.
Midfielder Cesc Fabregas looks set to miss out again with a knee problem.
Provisional squad: Kepa, Caballero, Rudiger, Alonso, Jorginho, Drinkwater, Kante, Barkley, Hazard, Pedro, Moses, Kovacic, Giroud, Zappacosta, Willian, Cahill, Christensen, Azpilicueta, Morata, Luiz, Emerson Palmieri, Ampadu, Loftus-Cheek, Hudson-Odoi.