Pep Guardiola will name a full complement of Manchester City substitutes against Leicester City – news that he joked will please Gary Neville.
Ex-Manchester United and England defender Neville lambasted Guardiola’s decision to name six substitutes for last weekend’s 1-1 draw at Burnley, arguing the final allocated spot on City’s bench should have gone to a youth team player.
“I think it’s a joke, I absolutely think it’s a joke,” Neville told Sky Sports.
“If you’re the academy or reserve team manager at Manchester City you must think ‘I’m wasting my time’. Forget the fact they’ve spent however much money, six players on the bench… to me, it’s like a protest.”
Guardiola maintained the absences of David Silva, Leroy Sane, Gabriel Jesus, Phil Foden and John Stones – the latter two are available to face Leicester after recovering from respective ankle and knee complaints – were a factor in his decision, while also citing the fact City’s Under-23 side played the day before the seniors travelled to Turf Moor.
The former Barcelona boss was happy to tell a pre-match news conference on Friday that he would be avoiding such controversy this time around.
“We have 18 players tomorrow so Gary Neville can be happy,” he said, having shaken or nodded his head to state whether his quintet of absentees from last time out would be ready to play.
Guardiola had hoped to have Riyad Mahrez among his options in the battle for honours on four fronts but City’s bid to sign Leicester’s star attacker on transfer deadline day last week fell short.
The Algeria international subsequently went AWOL but, a day after Leicester boss Claude Puel said Mahrez would not feature at the Eithad Stadium, he returned to training on Friday.
Irrespective of the 26-year-old’s involvement at the weekend, Guardiola feels the Foxes have plenty of ways to threaten his runaway league leaders.
“Leicester have the fundamentals they have from a long time ago that helped them to be champions in the Premier League,” he explained.
“But he [Puel] introduced something else. They play more between each other, they have more and more passes.
“They are a strong team. We cannot forget it was not a century ago but two seasons ago when they were champions. Still, they remain – except for two or three players – the same.
“They are so dangerous with [Jamie] Vardy, [Marc] Albrighton, Mahrez if he plays, with [Shinji] Okazaki.
“We know Kelechi [Iheanacho] in the box is so, so dangerous. They have a lot of arguments to make problems.”
On Mahrez, Guardiola added: “Hopefully he will come back soon to play football. We enjoy watching him play and, as soon as possible, he should come back with Leicester and play at his level.”