Pep Guardiola has confirmed Benjamin Mendy has the opportunity to begin his comeback from his latest injury in Manchester City’s Carabao Cup semi-final second leg at Burton.
The Premier League club are 9-0 up from the first leg and appear to be as good as in the final next month, but Guardiola intends to use the fixture to give match time to Mendy, Kevin De Bruyne and a handful of youth players.
“Some players need rhythm and are going to play. The guys who’ve had a lot of games will rest,” the City manager said. “Some players coming back or back from injuries long-term are going to play. Kevin will play because he needs minutes on the pitch, Benjamin might be used from the bench. We can take the opportunity to introduce some young players, but not too many.
“Two or three can play and two or three will be on the bench. I don’t want anyone thinking about the result in the first game, I want us to attack just as fluently and try to create more chances. This is an unusual situation to be in when it is a semi-final, but I would still like us to try and improve in every game.”
Mendy has hardly played for City since his £52m transfer from Monaco two years ago (20 games in total). A cruciate ligament injury put him out of action for most of the first season and he has not played this season since incurring cartilage damage to his other knee in November. City have not exactly struggled without him, winning the league at a canter last season and still engaged in four competitions this time, though Guardiola believes he might have added a different dimension.
“The results suggest we have not missed him too much but I miss him a lot,” the manager said. “I have a feeling he can give us something extra, and hopefully in the last part of the season we will be able to use him more. He can be unstoppable when he pushes from outside, he crosses very well and he’s such a clever player. He will need time to adjust after playing so few games, but we can always use a player of his quality.”
Vincent Kompany will not play at Burton as he works to shake off what Guardiola describes as a couple of small injuries, and though that might present an opportunity for Nicolás Otamendi, the manager is aware a lack of game time is becoming a problem for the Argentinian centre-half. Otamendi has dropped down the pecking order due to the partnership between John Stones and Aymeric Laporte. “Nico is not happy, and I can understand that,” Guardiola said.
“I know he’s there and he can help us, but I’ve got three central defenders and Vinny as well, and I have to decide between one or the other. I know we can count on Nico, he’s an incredible professional, but I don’t want sad players here. Players have to reflect at the end of the season and if they are not happy they have to move. I know they are able to do it and I don’t have any complaints about that.”
Some of the young players City might play at Burton include Eric García, Felix Nmecha and Luke Bolton, though Guardiola knows after losing Jadon Sancho and Brahim Díaz to continental rivals that occasional appearances in lesser cup competitions may not be enough to satisfy emerging young talents who feel ready for first team football. “I’m pretty sure they are motivated to play alongside incredible players in semi-finals but they have to know how difficult it is to achieve the first-team squad,” Guardiola said. “Not just at Man City but everywhere.
“They have to realise here we have the best facilities, best conditions, they have everything they need. I can make a mistake but I have an incredible staff when I don’t realise the situation they can help me to understand. Everyone has a chance but at a big club it is never easy to break through.”