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Pep: Schedule asking far too much of stars

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Liam Delap could get more games

Liam Delap could get more games

Manchester City FC via Getty Ima

Liam Delap could get more games

PEP Guardiola knows he can't really complain.

Not when he's on £20m a year and his stars already have so much money, they could buy a relatively large country.

And not when so much of the public is suffering one way or another due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Yet, he still has a point when he says that his players are not machines - and that the physical stress of playing so much football in so little time is causing havoc amongst his squad and within many of his rivals.

The Manchester City boss goes into this afternoon's clash with Leicester City minus his No 1 striker in Sergio Aguero, who is out for two months with a knee injury, while his deputy Gabriel Jesus will be missing for four weeks with a muscle strain.

Midfielder Bernardo Silva and defender Joao Cancelo are also in the treatment room.

He could be forced to play 17-year-old Liam Delap, son of Irish legend Rory, up front, the new kid on the block having announced himself in spectacular fashion in last week's Carabao Cup win over Bournemouth.

Either that, or play Raheem Sterling as a false No 9.

What is not false for Guardiola (inset), however, is that players are going down like ninepins, as he declares his fear for their welfare.

Business

He stresses: "It is not just Manchester City, it is all the clubs and the countries.

"I have said many times nobody cares about the players.

"It is a business and we are part of the business.

"We will do it the best as possible for ourselves, and the people watching at home.

"We can only hope that the circumstances are such that this Covid-19, the environment, society, nurses, doctors and scientists, can control it a little bit more, and it comes back to the normal situation.

"But it has been such a long time.

"The players have had pre-season one week or two weeks, and now have to play every three days for 11 months.

"Before it was completely different, now it is like so.

"We are not going to change anything saying the opposite.

"I understand it is an exceptional situation - exceptional for everywhere, including restaurants, cinema, theatres, museums, shopping, for everything.

"Everyone is struggling and we are not the exception.

"And I have an exceptional squad.

"These injured guys will be back, some earlier than the other ones, but I am not going to think for one second why these players are not there.

"All the recovery people are going to provide for them, as much as possible to come back as best as possible, but the reality is what it is."

Guardiola is not the only manager who has spoken out over what is considered to be a near-impossible physical schedule created by the Covid shutdown, with so few Premier League players given the chance to become men behaving badly abroad.

Although a few did, of course.

Yet, the Catalan has, perhaps, the most persuasive voice in football given his catalogue of accomplishments - none the least being his reinvention of the game while in charge of Barcelona.

He knows he is preaching to the converted within his own profession.

Just not to the suits.

And it is the suits who really run the game - them and the television executives, determined to squeeze the last pip out of every player so they get payback for the money they put in.

Still, he remains passionate about the cause of preventing burnout amongst the men who actually play the game.

Even if he knows he's wasting his time.

He says: "Every association - whether the Premier League, Uefa, Fifa or Carabao Cup - defend their own position and competitions.

"We will play every game in a good way, and the players are coming back.

"It is best not to think much about this.

"We had three players come back injured from their international teams. We cannot control this. They play two games in three or four days' time.

Demand

"But they are not machines. We demand a lot and, sometimes, the muscles fill up. Hopefully, sooner rather than later, they will come back.

"But international team federations demand they play games.

"Qualification for the Euros or World Cup, with Fifa having the responsibility to organise their own tournaments.

"Everybody understands the situation.

"The players play incredible for 11 months, then we give them two or three weeks before they have to come back.

"We try to get the players back fit and take it game by game. But, the thing is, there are more and more games."

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