MANCHESTER: Pep Guardiola has said Leroy Sane must face down the challenge posed within Manchester City’s deep and talented squad if he is to win back his starting place with the Premier League champions.
City have made a strong, unbeaten start to their title defence but German international Sane, voted the young player-of-the-year last season in England, has yet to start a game.
He has played just 30 minutes, spread over three substitute appearances, for Guardiola, following a pre-season in which he was surprisingly omitted from Germany's World Cup squad.
Sane also missed a Germany international last week due to "personal reasons" reported to be connected with the birth of his daughter, while Germany legend Toni Kroos questioned his team-mate’s attitude and "body language"
Manchester City manager Guardiola defended his winger from those accusations and insisted Sane will have a vital part to play in the champions' season, which continues at home to Fulham on Saturday.
"It's normal after what happened last season that people ask about him," said Guardiola. "His body language is the same as last season and he was the best young player in the league.
"Leroy was so important, is so important, and will be so important for the club. There's no doubt about that.
"It's a challenge for him -- not just for him, for everybody. There's a lot of nice strikers and midfield players and the season will be judged in 11 months, not just in three weeks or one month," Guardiola added.
Sane's cause has been hampered by the pre-season arrival of Riyad Mahrez to bolster an already formidable squad.
And not even the absence, through injury, of Kevin De Bruyne has helped Sane re-establish himself as a starter with the likes of Raheem Sterling and Bernardo Silva, to name just two, apparently ahead of him.
But Guardiola was confident Sane would rise to the challenge of competing for a place.
"Of course, he's going to respond in the right way. He's a competitive guy," he said.
"He was so professional last season and he had competition as well -- because Sterling could play in that position on the left. But this season, Bernardo Silva was the first one. He started in an incredible condition and he deserves to play.
"It's a challenge for all of them and it's a challenge for me, the manager, to keep the level and it's a challenge for the players to keep their level and compete with their mates. It's the only way to maintain the level we achieved last season."
Foden 'ready for England'
Playing time for City's stars has been a burning issue this week after England manager Gareth Southgate pointed to the lack of minutes on the pitch being experienced by Guardiola players such as Fabian Delph and promising youngster Phil Foden.
Guardiola, however, insisted the 18-year-old rising English star was ready to play regularly for club and country this season.
"No, no, I don't feel the pressure about that (selecting Foden)," said the City manager. "I feel the pressure to win the games.
"I think Phil is ready (for England). (He's ready for City because) he's here. If he wasn't ready, he wouldn't be here. He's ready and after, it's the same case with Leroy, he can compete with the top players.
"If you see the big 10-20 clubs in Europe in all the competitions you don't see many people playing who are 18-19 years old, maybe one, two, three… but not too many.
"He's special, his work ethic is excellent, he will have a lot of minutes this season, and after that Gareth has his own decision."