Leroy Sane might not be the most versatile player in the Manchester City squad but Pep Guardiola believes he is the best out-and-out winger in world football.
Sane came off the bench against his former club Schalke on Wednesday, firing home a sensational 30-yard free-kick to inspire a 3-2 comeback victory for 10-man City in the Champions League last-16 first leg.
The 23-year-old Germany international, who was a surprise omission from his country’s ill-fated World Cup defence last year, was an unused substitute for City’s recent Premier League victories over Arsenal and Chelsea and will hope for a return to the starting XI when Guardiola selects a side to face the latter in Sunday’s EFL Cup final.
Kevin De Bruyne’s return to fitness, Bernardo Silva’s adeptness in operating off the right flank and Raheem Sterling’s capabilities across the forward line have appeared to act against Sane of late.
Speaking at a pre-match news conference, Guardiola admitted as much but claimed Sane is without compare when it comes to orthodox wing play.
“Leroy, still he is not ready. In the future, maybe, but he is not ready to play in the middle right now,” he said.
“To play in the middle you have to be so good in controlling the spaces, what happens around you. Still he is not ready. Hopefully, we can help him.
“But Leroy, I think, is the best player in the world [playing] wide and making runs in behind and these kind of actions.
“We prefer to use him where he is strong. His strength, I believe, is wider – one against one. There I think he is an incredible player.”
Difficult game but with a good ending for us Respect to @s04 and their fans, it was overwhelming to be back here / Schwieriges Spiel mit einem guten Ende für uns. Respekt an die Schalker und ihre Fans. Es war überwältigend, hier her zurückzukommen #LS19 #inSané @ManCity pic.twitter.com/BtM9rS2JGB
— Leroy Sané (@LeroySane19) 20 February 2019
Another City player awaiting team news with interest this weekend will be Aro Muric.
The back-up goalkeeper has played every round of the EFL Cup, starring in the quarter-final win on penalties against Leicester City.
Guardiola selected Ederson’s understudy Claudio Bravo throughout last season’s competition, but the experienced Chile international is still rehabilitating from a ruptured Achilles tendon.
Muric, however, is not guaranteed to get the Wembley nod.
“We will see. I have to think about it,” Guardiola said when asked whether the 20-year-old would play.
“I think he was an important player to be where we are. In the Leicester game he was the important player in the penalties. It was incredible. When he played, he was really good.
“The situation from Claudio means he is the second goalkeeper for Manchester City. We did not look for another goalkeeper in January. We trust him.”
Sunday’s kick-off comes immediately after Liverpool take on Manchester United in the Premier League.
Jurgen Klopp’s team will go back ahead of City at the top of the table if they avoid defeat in their game in hand, but Guardiola claimed his players will be focused upon more pressing matters – namely getting dressed at England’s national stadium.
“I think during that game we will be in the stadium preparing, changing socks, pants, t-shirt, warm-up, underwear,” he said.
“We will be ready to play the game. We won’t have time to look at that game.”
Gabriel Jesus, John Stones and Benjamin Mendy all sat out the trip to Schalke with respective hamstring, groin and knee problems, although Guardiola thinks the trio have a chance of being involved at the weekend.
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