Pep Guardiola believes Manchester City left-back Benjamin Mendy can still make a strong contribution for the Premier League champions, but only as long as he wins his on-going fitness battles.
The 25-year-old French international has had a disappointing time with last season’s domestic treble winners, starting just 14 league games in 25 months since signing for £52 million ($63.8 million) from Monaco.
Mendy has been hampered by a series of injuries but has also been criticised on occasions by City manager Guardiola for his approach to rehabilitating after those problems.
However, Guardiola has been encouraged by the manner in which the defender recuperated from his latest knee injury at City’s medical base in Barcelona.
“If Benjamin is fit he will have success. He has a special quality,” Guardiola said.
“I am happy, but I don’t want to say too much. But I am satisfied because it has been two weeks and his recovery after training has been good. He doesn’t feel any pain and that is good.
“These kinds of traumatic injuries are a bit unlucky. One after another. He couldn’t take the rhythm for even half season or a long time. That is a concern but he’s now training good.
“The people from Barcelona are telling me that he is working incredible like an animal and hopefully he can maintain that because it is not about one day or one week, it is about every day doing that.”
Mendy returned to training with City’s first team squad this week, but is well short of match fitness and won’t feature at Bournemouth on Sunday.
– Prolific form –
Oleksandr Zinchenko has emerged as City’s first-choice left-back, having successfully converted from a midfield position, while £60-million signing Joao Cancelo, mainly a right-back, can play on the left.
Guardiola will hope England forward Raheem Sterling can maintain his prolific form at Bournemouth after starting the season with five goals in City’s opening three fixtures.
Including the final game of last season, Sterling has scored seven times in his last four City matches.
“He’s a better player than when we first arrived but it’s all his credit, desire to be better,” Guardiola said.
“Every player is good when understanding what we want to do as a group and after his desire to be better and to improve his skills. I think he has incredible reception to our talks, like when (coach) Mikel (Arteta) or myself talk with him.
AFP/File / Ian KINGTON ‘Incredible, exceptional player’: Raheem Sterling has started the form in blazing form
“That’s nice when they don’t get that feeling like: ‘oh why is he always pushing or criticising me’. That how he improved, he’s open, from the day when we arrive more than three seasons ago and that’s why he is becoming one incredible, exceptional player.
“After that his physicality –- so he plays every three days, no injuries, he runs a lot –- he is so strong, so it’s good.”
Sterling returns to Bournemouth almost exactly two years to the day after scoring a memorable 96th-minute winning goal for City at the start of a run that saw City win 18 consecutive league games on their way to taking the title.
“Sometimes in the beginning of the season there are moments that are important for the mood, rhythm,” Guardiola said.
“I remember we came from a draw with Everton and you know what happens with the rumours and talk and the doubts in the minds of the players –- it was so important that goal, definitely.”