Pep Guardiola has said Raheem Sterling retains his trust at Manchester City, but the forward needs to express his confidence to make himself indispensable again.
Sterling, 26, so often an automatic pick under Guardiola during his tenure at the Etihad, has only started two of the last eight matches, with England team-mate Phil Foden thriving in his absence.
Guardiola, whose side face another hurdle in their quadruple quest with the FA Cup semi-final against Chelsea at Wembley on Saturday, insisted only Sterling can win back his starting role.
“The trust with Raheem is intact,” said Guardiola. “It is the same as when we arrived here.
“[The only reason] why he has played less is because there is Gabriel (Jesus) sometimes or especially Phil (Foden) or Riyad (Mahrez) and they are at a top level. [They are] scoring goals and being decisive in the final third.
“He has to have confidence. He has the confidence of all of us, he has to have it. Because the quality is there. I cannot give the players confidence.
“They have to have it for themselves to give me the confidence to be selected.”
Sterling has won two Premier League titles, the FA Cup and three League Cup crowns at City since he made the move from Liverpool in 2015.
Guardiola added: “I have said many times what we have done over these incredible years, with the amount of titles, breaking records in the process… Raheem is key.
“He was a key player and is a key player. But in this moment Phil is playing really well and Riyad is playing really well.”
Pep calls on City players to do talking on the pitch
During a lengthy answer to a question about Sterling’s form, Guardiola also appeared to make a general appeal to his squad to seize the moment over the closing weeks of the season, with rotation likely to be a necessity.
“You talk, no problem. Three days you have another game,” he said.
“Show me there and after I will come to you and say, how wrong I was, you are right, you are a top talented player.
“Do it there. Not writing books. No, in the semi-finals of the Champions League go and win the game, like the biggest stars do. The greatest are like this.”
He added: “Michael Jordan never went to the media, manager or an agent to criticise or write books to criticise.
“Knowing that you are playing bad, I am here to support them all the time. In any circumstance, I am here to support. It depends on the player.”
Guardiola also insisted he never uses the media to send a message to his player, instead telling them in person, after he earlier urged Foden to not rest on his laurels.
“For Phil now there are a lot of compliments because he is playing incredibly,” he said. “But when he believes what he has done is enough and not show on the grass what you have to do it will be a big mistake.
“I prefer to help Phil in that moment, at that age, because he has to learn a lot. He will live in his career very difficult moments.”
City’s season climax on four fronts ‘a privilege’
Guardiola insists this stage of a season, where many of his side’s games are knockout, is a “privilege” for his squad and fatigue should not play a factor.
“Tough? Complete opposite. It is the best moment of the season and the best part of their careers” added Guardiola.
“In the moment we are not tired. If you are tired it is because you don’t like this game.
“We would be tired if we had gone out against Dortmund and we had to fly to London to play the [FA Cup final] with a defeat. That would be tough.
“If you have the desire to win one title or be close to playing finals, never will you be tired.”
Steffen to start FA Cup semi-final
Meanwhile, Guardiola confirmed USA international Zack Steffen would continue his role as starting goalkeeper in the domestic cup ties against Thomas Tuchel’s Chelsea – a match that could serve as a dress rehearsal for the Champions League final.
“If Zack doesn’t play tomorrow, I am going to lose the team,” he said. “It is better to lose the game than to lose a team. He has played really well in the [League] Cup, FA Cup, and key performer for the US national team.
“When he has played, he has played at a good level. He is a lovely guy, training well and he deserves it. I am more than delighted to give him the chance to play.”