Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola has apologised for Riyad Mahrez’s lack of action.
Mahrez, City’s £60million record signing, has not started a Premier League game since the victory at Southampton on December 30.
Guardiola insists the Algerian has done little wrong but the form of others – notably Raheem Sterling, Leroy Sane and Bernardo Silva – has simply prevented him getting into the side.
Guardiola said: “I am the reason (he has not played). He is absolutely not guilty.
“I am sad because he is training incredibly. He is an incredibly talented player but in this moment we have five strikers. In the last games Leroy hasn’t played.
“We have incredible players, like for example Bernardo and Raz (Sterling) in top, top form and that is the only reason why. There’s no particular reason, like being upset or something like that.
“He is a guy we are happy with but unfortunately I am not kind with him. In fact, I cannot give him the minutes he deserves, so I’m sorry. That’s all I can say.”
Mahrez has had to make do with substitute appearances in the league and cup starts against Rotherham, Burton and Burnley in recent weeks.
Guardiola, however, has been pleased with the former Leicester forward’s attitude and promises his chances will come.
The 27-year-old could be involved as City face Newport in the fifth round of the FA Cup on Saturday. Further chances could come as a result of rotation with the Champions League resuming this week.
He said: “I am unfair in the fact that, if he had played the minutes that the others have played, he would have been in the top level like the players who are playing.
“It’s not easy for one guy who does not play regularly to come in and play at a high, high level. Give him five or six games in a row playing and he is going to play at the level of Sterling or Bernardo, or the players who play.
“When he played four or five games in a row he was incredible, outstanding.
“I don’t have any doubts about his quality. Just keep going, not complain too much, move forward and fight more and more.
“His time is coming and I’m pretty sure he is going to play good.”