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Pep Guardiola explains benching Erling Haaland for Man City vs Aston Villa | Football

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Pep Guardiola explains benching Erling Haaland for Man City vs Aston Villa | Football

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Erling Haaland has failed to score in his last five games for Man City (Photo: Getty)

Pep Guardiola has explained his decision to drop Erling Haaland to the bench for Manchester City’s big clash against Aston Villa.

City host Villa on Wednesday night with the chance to go top of the Premier League as the title race draws to a thrilling conclusion.

This is one of the Citizens’ toughest fixtures in their run-in, having lost the reverse fixture back in December and with the Villans currently fourth in the table.

Yet, Guardiola has not named the strongest XI he could have, with four changes from the goalless draw against title rivals Arsenal last Sunday.

One of those is enforced, with Nathan Ake out with injury, but Haaland, Kevin De Bruyne and Mateo Kovacic have also been dropped to the bench.

Jack Grealish, Jeremy Doku, Julian Alvarez and Rico Lewis come in to start.

Given the quick turnaround, changes were expected, but striker Haaland is very rarely benched and this decision is even more surprising given how passionately Guardiola defended the 23-year-old after he was labelled ‘a League Two player’ following an awful performance against Arsenal.

Julian Alvarez will start up top against Aston Villa (Photo: Getty)

Explaining his team selection, the manager told TNT Sports that it was just a matter of resting players amid the fixture pile up: ‘Yes [it’s just a matter of managing minutes].

‘In two-and-a-half days at 12:30 we have another game [against Crystal Palace].

‘I think all the teams who are top have the biggest squad and of course we have it. Today we decide on this line-up for this opponent, a tough opponent and we’ll go for it.’

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Former Tottenham and England goalkeeper Paul Robinson believes Guardiola has made the right call, saying on BBC Radio 5 Live: ‘If Erling Haaland had scored at the weekend and there hadn’t been comments made about his general performance, then him being on the bench tonight would have been classed as Pep Guardiola rotating his squad.

‘We have also seen Kevin de Bruyne on the bench occasionally this season. They have Crystal Palace at the weekend and Real Madrid next week in the Champions League.

‘But given the comments around Haaland this week it seems that Pep is doing what he thinks is best for the team. I’m the manager, I’m leaving him out, that is what I’m going to do.’

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