Pep Guardiola has suggested Raheem Sterling needs to rediscover his confidence if he is to usurp Phil Foden and Riyad Mahrez from Manchester City’s starting XI.
Sterling has been an important performer throughout the Guardiola era at the Etihad Stadium but has started just two of City’s past eight games across all competitions.
He was in the XI for all three of England’s World Cup qualifiers during the recent international break, scoring in a 5-0 win against San Marino.
Sterling started City’s surprise Premier League defeat to Leeds United yet was back on the bench for Wednesday’s Champions League quarter-final second leg against Borussia Dortmund, during which both Mahrez and Foden scored to seal a place in the last four.
“He’s maybe the second or third player with the most minutes this season,” the City boss told a media conference.
“The trust with Raheem is intact. He’s only played less because Phil and Riyad are at the top level, scoring goals and being so decisive in the final third.
“The confidence, he has to have it. He has it from all of us, he has to have it because the quality is there. I cannot give the players confidence, he can have it for himself.
“Having confidence from me, for being selected, is completely the opposite. What we have done in these incredible years, with this amount of titles and records that went on, Raheem has been key.
“He was a key player and is a key player. But at this moment Phil is playing really good and Riyad is playing really good. That’s the only reason. They know it. They know it and everybody plays a lot of minutes this season.
“Every day, people want to take what happened in the past and future. I could not care less. I don’t care. I care about the training sessions, how you were, how you behave, about the body language, your mood, and then tomorrow, semi-final day, that’s when you have to talk.
“We have excellent human beings, the relationship in the locker room in bad moments this season was fantastic and in good moments it’s fantastic.”
Meanwhile, Guardiola confirmed Zack Steffen will start against Chelsea ahead of first-choice goalkeeper Ederson.
The United States international has started all four of City’s games in the FA Cup this season and Guardiola acknowledged it would not be fair on the 26-year-old to drop him for the clash with Thomas Tuchel’s side.
“He’s played really well in the FA Cup,” Guardiola explained. “He’s an international goalkeeper and when he has played he has played at a good level. He’s training well, he deserves it. I am more than delighted to give him this opportunity.”